Publicizing criminal cases on TikTok benefits teens

While TikTok is a source for dance trends and funny videos, it has also become a major news source for teens, from highlighting world events to bringing awareness to criminal cases that otherwise would not receive much attention.

Giving teens the opportunity to get involved with these cases provides the police with more tips, helps teens stay informed on what’s happening in the world and gives them an opportunity to assert their opinions in real-life discussions.

This trend was amplified in the summer of 2021, when the case of Gabby Petito blew up on TikTok. Videos about the case dominated TikTok users’ “For You” page, a scrollable feed of recommended content on the app. Using the platform to bring awareness to the case and even help solve it, teens became obsessed with trying to figure out what had really happened to Petito: was she murdered or did she run away?

If it was not for TikTok, the case would not have been broadcast as much as it was, especially to the younger generation. With the help of teens’ involvement in the case on TikTok, police were able to find Jessica Schultz, a witness from TikTok, who had seen Petito in the days before her death.

Teens were finally able to voice their opinions and be a part of something that mattered instead of just mindlessly scrolling through their feeds. As seen in the Petito case, TikTok allows teens to gain more insight into the dangers and challenges of the real world and prepares them to contribute their thoughts in public conversations.

After the buzz around the Petito case died down, for a period of time, TikTok’s “For You” page took a break for a time from highly publicized cases, returning to the regular dance trends and comedy skits.

However, in the past few months, TikTok users have focused on their next major case. On Nov. 13, the murder of four college students took place at the University of Idaho.

With no suspects or clear evidence, the case’s popularity quickly skyrocketed on the platform. Once one person posted their opinion on what had happened, many others continued to share their theories and continued to build off others. After law enforcement found their main suspect, Bryan Kohlberger, many people who previously had contact with Kohlberger posted their interactions with him on TikTok, allowing law enforcement to obtain a wider spectrum of witnesses. Casey Arntz took to TikTok to share her past with Kohlberger, giving law enforcement a deeper understanding of his personality and behaviors.

But alongside the benefits that publicizing criminal cases on TikTok brings, there are many negative implications to teens getting news of those cases from social media. Teens have a tendency to dramatize, over-analyze and react rashly to information found online, normally without spending the time to fact-check the information.

It is the job of social media companies to crack down on misinformation. TikTok must implement stricter moderation policies, especially given the increasing number of people who are using the platform for their news, which has tripled since 2020, according to tech news website The Verge.

Using Tik Tok as an outlet to publicize criminal cases has proven to be useful in many different ways. With effective policies to combat misinformation, TikTok has the potential to become a platform, not only for mindless entertainment but for the younger generation of our world to engage in more impactful conversations about real-world issues.

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