The social media app TikTok took an interesting turn this week when TikTokers stopped dancing and turned their attention to solving a missing person case.
TikTok is known for its videos of people dancing, funny trends, and cute animal content. In a twist that perhaps no one saw coming, the app that made the very palatable Addison Rae a star, is now being used to solve crimes.
In the last year, TikTok has arguably become the most influential social media app. TikTok experienced a surge during the pandemic, Statista reported that it experienced a growth of 180 per cent among 15-25-year-old users.
Suddenly, even celebrities were signing up, Taylor Swift and Ryan Reynolds are now TikTokers. The platform has become a way for people to share their lives in these isolated times.
However, the app waded its way into controversy this week, because TikTokers have been posting content trying to solve the missing person case of Gabby Petito.
Petito, a young and beautiful influencer went missing last week in the United States on a road trip with her fiance, Brian Laundrie. Laundrie, mysteriously returned home without Petito and has allegedly been uncooperative with the police.
Before her disappearance, Petito had been updating her social media profiles to share stories and news of her trip with her fiance. They seemed young, in love, and enviable, and then she disappeared.
It’s hard not to see the appeal, a beautiful white woman goes missing, who is an avid social media user. Petito has shared so much of her life online, people still feel like they can get to know her. It sounds like a storyline ripped from a Netflix television show, except it isn’t.
The true story has practically taken over TikTok, the app has amassed over 576 million tags of the hashtag #GabbyPetito and has been flooded with videos of TikTokers trying to help the police solve the case, popular hashtags include; #findgabby, #findinggabbypetito and #gabbypetitoupdate.
The TikToks range from users looking for clues, discussing theories. or trying to raise awareness online. Some TikTokers have delved back into Petito’s social media accounts and are analysing every video.
It has also sparked developments. Miranda Baker took to the platform to share that she had given Laundrie a lift, and only recognised him because of TikTok. She also explained she had contacted the authorities with the relevant information.
Baker’s TikTok has received over 15 million views.
Petito’s story has created a sense of comraderie on the platform – ordinary people trying to solve a mystery. Comments under the videos are flooded with praise, advice, tips and theories, users are banding together to share knowledge with each other.
Still, there has been debate over whether this is helping or hurting the constantly evolving case. Particularly because some videos about the case have been monetised, meaning the creators are making money off Petito’s disappearance.
But the coverage, however tone-deaf, does seem to be helping solve the case. YouTubers from the channel Red, White & Bethune recognised the images of Petito’s distinctive white van from their own footage at Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, and went to the police.
Police have now found a body matching Petito’s description there, and according to The Guardian, the body is Petitos and has been ruled a homicide. These updates give TikTokers new material to work with, to endlessly discuss and dissect.
Public information officer Josh Taylor told BuzzFeed News, “Social media has helped us solve a lot of crimes.
“You have to take the good with the bad. You might get a thousand completely insane pieces of information, but that one piece that might be the missing piece to the puzzle, it’s important.”
Still, no matter what you think, you can’t put the wine back in the bottle. Considering how popular the true-crime videos have been on TikTok it would be naive to dismiss that solving crimes via TikTok is in our future.
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