If you’re an NYU student, your memory of freshman year is indelibly stamped with mass invitations sent out by party promoters over Facebook. Each year has its hallmark promoter, from John Tasch to Matt Cuba to Samantha Molozanov. We took a look inside the operation of Amanda Sarah, one of NYU’s most prolific promoters. What we found was an intriguing tale of identity, the Internet, and, of course, parties.
Amanda Sarah is not a spambot. Despite what you may have heard, NYU’s most prolific party promoter is not a dummy Facebook profile created to send out party invitations, but rather a breathing, brown-haired twenty-something. If you wish, you can meet Amanda Sarah, shake her hand, hear her laugh, have a conversation.
On a late morning this fall we did just that, and met with Sarah at Think Coffee on Mercer Street. She arrived exactly on time – an impressive feat, having travelled from Midtown, where she told us she lives.
If you haven’t heard of Amanda Sarah, you probably didn’t log onto Facebook very often as a freshman. A requisite part of every new student’s Welcome Week is receiving a Facebook invitation to one of her parties – or one of the myriad other promoters who work for her. “Most of those are people who did work for me or still work for me,” Sarah said of the other promoters with whom students are familiar.
Sarah got started in the party business like many of those younger promoters who now work for her. “I had friends who were [promoting] and I was going out with them.” After she began to invite more friends to the parties, her promoter friends told her: “‘You’re basically bringing out half the people you might as well get paid for it.’ And I started that way, and it progressed and grew and I started having people work under me. It was fun.”
Promoters strike early, targeting freshmen to join their Facebook groups in the first few weeks of school. With an excited, ALL CAPS invitation to join a social group, new students eager to make friends are all too quick to connect with promoters on Facebook. But as many find out, the simple click to join the group preempts the onslaught of invites to follow.
“I have 3,800 phone numbers,” Sarah said of how many contacts she keeps in her phone, along with “somewhere in the ten or twelve thousand range on Facebook.” Of course, there aren’t 12,000 people coming out to Amanda Sarah parties every weekend.
“Obviously a large percentage of them … are older and don’t come to the 18 and over stuff any more. But they’re still there. And they still get my invites,” Sarah said. With a chuckle she added, “And I’m sorry for that.”
But you don’t send ten thousand Facebook invitations without making a few enemies. For many students, party promoters can be summed up in one word: Spam.
“People complain they get spammed,” Sarah acknowledged. But her attitude toward the haters is less than sympathetic. “I’m going to be honest with you: It takes two seconds to delete me out of your life … See if you’re in any of my Facebook groups, because you probably are, and you get out of my group, you will never get an invite again. It’s very simple.”
Removing yourself from Sarah’s invite-list life may seem simple, but students’ reports tell a different story. “It took a couple of aggressive texts back to her before she stopped texting me,” Tisch senior Jenna Lloyd told us in an email. “I despise getting mass text messages, and Amanda is the worst with them.”
For students who do attend the parties, the experience is often a letdown. “The club was packed, obviously beyond the legal capacity,” Alec Steinfeld, a Steinhardt senior who attended many of these parties freshman year, said. “You barely had space to dance or get to the bar … Since they didn’t expect people to drink, they didn’t have an incentive to make the place enjoyable. All they cared about was a head count.”
While not all of her parties are duds — senior Ben Murray reports that at a John Tasch party “The open bar was pretty fun!” — new students lured by the promise of exclusive parties to find typically mediocre experiences and endless invitations become disappointed. Lloyd said she “never actively wanted to go to an Amanda Sarah party beyond Welcome Week.” After a few bad experiences and an onslaught of Facebook and text messages, her trust in Amanda Sarah had been broken.
The only thing is, Amanda Sarah doesn’t exist.
Amanda Sarah is not her real name. She does not study at NYU, does not live near NYU. The Facebook account you’re friends with? One of multiple bearing the “Amanda Sarah” name. The number you text when it’s time to be walked into the club? A work phone with the phone numbers of nearly 4,000 undergrads.
Amanda Sarah will not tell you her real name. She will not tell you where she currently studies as a graduate student, or where she is from (the closest she would tell us is “New York, not from the city” – but when you meet her she speaks, looks and gives off the aura of a Long Islander). She will tell you that she graduated from CAS in 2011, but not her major or who her professors were.
Amanda Sarah is a character – a fictional persona, albeit one whose hand you can shake, who posts Facebook statuses and, most importantly, hosts parties. Like some sort of grand interactive theatre project, Amanda Sarah exists not as a character on stage, but one you can friend on Facebook and will get you into the club.
This character, separate from her real person (and there is a real person) wasn’t created for art. It’s a defense. “I’m just going to keep my separate life separate from my other life,” Sarah said, dodging a question about her career aspirations. (For now, she promotes as her main income source).
Her “real” life — perhaps “first life” would be more accurate, since she spends so much of her time as Amanda Sarah – experiences something entirely different from her promoter self. “It’s like being two different people,” she said of her dual lives. “People treat me differently as the two different people … whether it’s good things or bad things on either side, trying to reconcile the fact that people say or think a lot of things about me as Amanda Sarah and don’t really know me has always been really hard.”
While she is in graduate school and ostensibly maintains a full life outside her party promoting, the Amanda Sarah brand requires serious upkeep. “Me and my partners communicate by email all week long,” Sarah said, describing the process of planning a party. “Setting up the Facebook event can take maybe 30 minutes or so to invite everyone. Sending out the texts, it takes all day.” But when you spend that much time as a character, where does the line between virtual and real end?
“When I finish graduate school my first life will be [my entire life],” she said. Leading a second life takes its toll, but the financial support party promotion offers is too good to pass up – even if it means splitting yourself down the line. “I wouldn’t still be doing it if it wasn’t a successful way to make money.”
Identity on the Internet is a messy business. With every post you’re forced to answer the question: Which version of myself shall I be today? You can be the you that politely answers questions in class, or the you that drinks forties on Friday nights with your friends. Perhaps you’ll be the version of yourself that speaks with your grandmother on the phone in a soft voice as you explain how the Internet works.
Amanda Sarah has circumvented this problem – having to represent herself online despite having multiple real-world identities – by fully embracing it: She’s split herself right down the middle.
“I want my phone to be my phone, and I want my Facebook to be my Facebook,” Sarah said. “I don’t want to hate my phone. I don’t want to hate my Facebook. I don’t want it to be work, which it is. At that point, I split.”
Creating this character has allowed her to occupy a unique space in the minds of NYU students, somewhere between antagonist and mascot we love to hate. At a school famous for its lack of community, a shared experience – even if an annoying one – is relished by students.
Last week, NYU (and the world) met Max Wiseltier, a sophomore who accidentally email-spammed the entire NYU community. Rather than lambast the accidental reply all, students rallied around the email thread as a rare moment of collegiate camaraderie.
But of course, every hero needs its villain, and on the NYU Memes Facebook page, Amanda Sarah (Rather, one of the Amanda Sarah profiles) was quick to comment on Wiselter’s snafu: “finally something that’s more spammy than my messages!” Then, in a moment only an NYU student could appreciate the surreality of, the invitations for her next party were sent out: “18+ TONIGHT @ Karizma: The Reply All Party, Hosted by Max Wiseltier.”