TikTok Detectives Trying To Solve Gabby Petito Case — But Are They Helping Or Hurting??

TikTok Detectives Trying To Solve Gabby Petito Case — But Are They Helping Or Hurting??
Home » Viral: News » TikTok Detectives Trying To Solve Gabby Petito Case — But Are They Helping Or Hurting??

The disappearance of Gabby Petito captured national attention — but some of the social media users following the case may have taken their interest too far.

As we’ve been reporting, the case of the missing “Van Life” YouTuber blew up after her family reported her missing on September 11. Many on social media rallied to gather clues regarding Gabby’s location, while others turned their suspicions to her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, who returned home to Florida without her shortly before disappearing himself.

Related: Gabby Petito’s ‘Odd’ Final Text Revealed In Unsealed Search Warrant

TikTok in particular has pounced on the mystery: the “Gabby Petito” hashtag has more than 600 MILLION views. Users following the case have posted multiple updates on the situation, while comment section discussions are analyzing body language, spouting theories, and frequently exclaiming that “TikTok is going to solve this before the police does!”

But has the platform’s investment with Gabby’s story actually been helpful? As we previously reported, one viral video speculated about Brian reading the novel Annihilation, claiming the story was about “missing women” and stating that the “information needs to be handed over to the police.” But the book is a fairly popular science fiction story, the details of which have very few similarities to Gabby’s case — as author Jeff VanderMeer was forced to point out on Twitter (below).

Just going to say that Annihilation is not about missing women or anything else that is beginning to churn up from tiktok.

— Jeff VanderMeer (@jeffvandermeer) September 19, 2021

Even the most successful example of social media’s involvement seems to have had its downsides. Some fellow travel YouTubers revealed that they had spotted Gabby and Brian’s van in Grand Teton National Park, close to where the body believed to be hers was found. Even though the couple said in their video that they had already shared their info with the FBI, followers must have begun reporting it anyway, as her family then had to release a statement on the “Where’s Gabby” Facebook page:

“We have this video, so does the FBI – We believe this is the van for multiple reasons. Please do not clog up the tip line with the same video. This is in the hands of the right people.”

We’ve seen in the past how social media gang-ups can be detrimental to investigations — like when online lookie-loos “falsely identified several people in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing,” per USA Today. With Brian missing, there’s danger of a similar phenomenon happening again, as TikTokers point fingers at potentially innocent bystandsers.

@whereisgabbypetitoThis man is not confirmed to be Brian but just a thought that’s all ##gabbypetito ##brianlaundrie ##whereisgabby ##whereisbrian ##crimetok ##weird ##whereisshe♬ Tiptoe Through The Tulips – Sterling Fournier

Possible #BrianLaundrie sighting in Baker, FL. Looks to be moving on foot, and must have hitchhiked there. Do not pick this man up! pic.twitter.com/qtbAYgBa7U

— True Crime Daily (@TennTrueCrime) September 21, 2021

The North Port Police Department’s public information officer Josh Taylor told BuzzFeed News the department has received “an influx of tips” about Gabby’s case. He explained:

“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.”

Related: Did This TikToker Actually Pick Up A Hitchhiking Brian Laundrie?

Gabby’s case has also sparked a debate about the ethics of true crime “fandom”: is it okay for TikTokers to be monetizing their wild conspiracy theories about an ongoing investigation, concerning a young woman who is presumed dead? And, as many Twitter users have pointed out, where is this energy for missing Black, Indigenous, and other non-white women?

does anyone else think the “true crime” obsession is a little (very) weird and just a microcosm of the wider phenomenon of the spectacle of violence & death (especially when it’s racialized/gendered) that’s inherent to western civil society

— read ‘no name in the street’ by james baldwin (@queersocialism) September 19, 2021

Hey, true crime junkies, maybe you shouldn’t look so excited about Gabby Petito’s case when you post on YouTube and TikTok; she’s a human being, NOT a murder mystery board game.

— Big bag bussin' Bill Murray (@MknightSolomon) September 18, 2021

Maybe the conversation could be more about how a woman in a violent relationship was murdered, & how it happens all the time. I know we love the true crime but this is not a podcast yet. It's a dead real human person.

— Laurie White (@lauriewrites) September 20, 2021

really uncomfortable to see how this entire site is using the gabby petito situation to live out their true crime fantasies. like, that’s a real girl who’s missing… in danger or already dead, and they’re treating it like it’s a tv drama. posting memes and everything. gross.

— em (@carasynthia) September 18, 2021

Soooooo. Y’all ready to put all that gusto, true crime hype, podcast energy and such into MMIW2S? Into BIPOC missing ppl. Into missing SW? Or at we stopping at pretty and blonde. Just wondering for a friend. Also….. y’all better be donating all that monetization to her family

— Kris – Dusk Dove (@kristhemystic) September 20, 2021

It’s definitely a complicated, sticky subject to tackle. Ultimately, it seems law enforcement and Gabby’s family are grateful for the attention on the case. But there are certainly valid criticisms to consider, and calling for more empathy from true crime followers can’t be a bad thing.

But what do U think, Perezcious readers? Does the tone of true crime TikTok rub you the wrong way? Or do you think the amateur investigators are helpful to the case? Let us know your thoughts in the comments (below).

[Image via Gabby Petito/YouTube & TikTok]