In recent years, social media has evolved into not just a new judge of character but also a full court of law, which has a lot to do with the architecture of these online platforms.
With over a billion monthly users, TikTok has quickly become an everyday platform for people to create, collaborate, and interact with. People use the platform to share practically any type of material, from food and DIY videos to personal stories. While gaining attention on other social media platforms can be challenging, going viral on TikTok is much easy. Anyone, regardless of how many followers they have, can go viral thanks to the platform’s unique recommendation mechanism.
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While these platforms can help create the kind of fellowship we experience in face-to-face meetings, they aren’t without their drawbacks. On TikTok, nefarious conspiracies and witch hunts have become commonplace. One example is a trans woman who was falsely accused of being a serial killer by viewers after she shared a video of herself dancing in her basement to Shania Twain on the app.
However, ‘West Elm Caleb,’ a New Yorker accused of mistreating a number of women after meeting them on a dating app, is a more contemporary example of the unintended repercussions of virality on TikTok. The videos concerning the person went viral on the app, attracting the attention and ire of many people other than the women he had dated. He was finally doxxed and lost his job as a result.
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Casey Fiesler, a technology ethics and online communities researcher, believes that the public’s reaction to stories like these stems from people forming parasocial relationships with the content creators and subjects of the videos they watch, as well as engaging with the content as if it were fiction, without considering the real-life consequences of resharing or chiming.