Are TikTok sleuths serving to clear up the case?
The Gabby Petito case is the latest in social media crime for a true crime-obsessed generation on TikTok.
The hashtag #GabbyPetito has more than 500 million views in the short video app. And many TikTok creators share updates, including unconfirmed reports, screenshots of texts by amateur detectives about their theories and their own feelings about the case.
Some of the crowd sleuthing on social media has even resulted in leads.
Authorities found human remains that they believe are Petito near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. A second search for her fiancé and the only person of interest in the case, Brian Laundrie, was unsuccessful. FBI agents raided Petito and Laundrie’s Florida home on Monday.
►Gabby Petito Timeline:From road trip with Brian Laundrie to active crime investigation
►Gabby Petito’s body found:Finding Boyfriend Brian Laundrie Stands: What We Know
The two lived at his parents’ house in Florida before leaving Long Island for a week-long cross-country adventure in July. Laundrie, who returned to Florida alone on September 1, tightened the mystery by refusing to discuss Petito’s whereabouts with authorities and then disappeared himself last week.
Miranda Baker said in videos posted on TikTok that she and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie, who was hitchhiking, at Grand Teton Park on August 29th. She said they informed the police about the brief encounter.
Travel vloggers Jenn and Kyle Bethune said on Instagram they spotted Petito’s white van in GoPro footage they took while camping in late August. They shared the footage with the FBI before putting it online. The remains of Petito were believed to have been found near this point.
Jenn Bethune said she reviewed the footage after someone tagged her on a social media post calling on people who visited the national park on Aug. 27 to help investigators.
Teaming up on social media to play amateur detective can help investigators. It can also spread falsehood and speculation.
Social media users helped track down hundreds of people suspected of participating in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, but also mistakenly identified several people in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Petito, who wanted to document the overland trip on the couple’s YouTube channel, was a budding internet personality. She and Laundrie posted about their vanlife trips on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.
“A lot of people who follow (Petito) feel they have a personal interest in her because she was a part of their life when she told her stories and if it ends abruptly due to tragedy they want to help find out who did it. “Said Todd Shipley, president of the High Technology Crime Investigation Association.
But such a massive investigation into a missing person occupied by untrained volunteer investigators can create problems for law enforcement and investigators trying to sort through thousands of leads, Shipley said.
“You have to evaluate what is real and what is not, go through all of the information and determine what is of value,” he told USA TODAY. “With thousands of tips, it can be both valuable and overwhelming.”
A TikTok inventor, Jessica Dean, called for what she believed to be insensitive behavior when people investigated Petito’s disappearance on social media.
“Oh, you’ve never heard of Gabby Petito? Oh my god, girl, you’re missing out. This stuff is so good,” she said in her video, which has been viewed over half a million times. “I did a 28-part monetized series on my TikTok that went through every single detail, including their Spotify playlist. I just dig up every inch of this poor girl’s life for my own entertainment. “
Dean told BuzzFeed News that she felt she needed to raise her voice after experiencing true tragedy in high school. She lived in the same neighborhood as the girls convicted of the Slender Man stabbing in 2014 and knew everyone involved in the case.
Some TikTok users are “extremely insensitive,” said Dean.
“A lot of videos start with things like, ‘Omg, guys, we see a true crime episode play out in real life,’ or people who say, ‘I can’t wait to be part of the Netflix documentary’. “She said to BuzzFeed News. “‘Somebody should get the movie rights for it before someone else does.'”
As amateur detectives dismantle every scrap of visual evidence they come across, some wonder why other missing people’s cases don’t get the same amount of attention.
Accounts like Indigenous Women Hike on Instagram say missing colored people and indigenous people deserve just as much energy.
The Black and Missing Foundation and Missing and Murdered Indigenous People regularly share flyers asking for help finding missing people through social media.
A viral tweet on Sunday reminded the public to be on the lookout for another missing person, 24-year-old Daniel Robinson, a black geologist who was last seen on June 23 before going missing in the desert.
Featuring: John Bacon, Alex Connor, and Samantha Gholar Weires