A couple of months back, a certain Tiktok of a girl surprise visiting her long-distance boyfriend went viral. The boyfriend in question was nicknamed ‘Couch guy’. In reference to where he was seated when his girlfriend surprised him. The reason this TikTok went viral is not for the same reason it was shot. The girlfriend probably thought that it would be very heartfelt and something that she could share with the people close to her. No instead millions of people came together and accused the so-called ‘couch guy’ of cheating on her. Their reasoning for this was that he sat next to other girls on this infamous couch and that he was a bit slow in getting up and hugging his girlfriend. Everything from close-ups to behavioral science was used to fully examine this one TikTok that lasted just a couple of seconds. After all the research was done, the jury made out of millions of people who in fact do not know these two people were sure that this relationship was not one to last (Rosenblatt 2021).
Couch guy’s lament
Fast forward to December 6 and this TikTok mystery got a new update. This time from the couch guy himself. In this written piece in Slate magazine, he talks about what it was like to suddenly find yourself being cross-examined by millions of strangers and the impact that it can have on your life. This sleuthing as it is called did not just stay on the digital sphere, but it crossed over into his real life. He, his girlfriend, and their friends began to have their day-to-day lives invaded (McCoy 2021). In one TikTok someone living in the same college dorm as him slipped a note under his door asking to interview him. where one commenter commented:
“Even if this guy turned off his phone, he can’t escape the couch guy notifications,” a fact that the 37,600 users who liked it presumably celebrated too.(McCoy 2021)
For obvious reasons, this is nothing short but horrifying. It is almost like it is a plot straight-up lifted from Black Mirror. Eventually, the hype around the couch guy investigation fell away and he was able to resume his normal life again (sort of). But for every trend that falls away, a new one comes in its place, and if one thing was certain the internet was not done sleuthing yet.
Sherlock Holmes and the adventure immediately springing to conclusions.
Another recent victim to the internet sleuthing obsession is a trans-woman called Sabrina Prater, who back in November posted a TikTok of her dancing to the song ‘Any man of mine’ by Shaina Twain. The setting for this dance was in a quite dilapidated basement, and it was exactly that factor that made this TikTok go so viral. At first it the response was more on the comedy side, mostly meant to be light-hearted but quickly becoming meaner and meaner (Dickinson 2021) .
But everything truly took a sharp turn when just a couple of weeks later, a Redditor posted on the Reddit sub: r/oddlyterrifying, a TikTok made by another creator in which he examined another of Sabrina’s videos. In this one, she was once again dancing, but this time in front of a computer screen, which flashed images of people’s faces. One image stood out, it looked like a person that was tied up, with its face obscured. And that was it, just like with couch guy millions of people began to once again investigate every single second of her entire existence. Unlike couch guy who was mostly accused of being unfaithful, Sabrina was accused of being a straight-up serial killer (Dickinson 2021). Just like with couch guy, this quickly left the digital sphere and crossed over in her real life. People wanted to report her to the police and to try and meet her in real life, this quickly began to spin out of control once again. As on TikToker Abbie Richard said that this story was like:
“watching true crime, internet sleuthing, conspiracy theories, and transphobia collide in a horrific car crash.”(Dickinson 2021)
For all their research their never was any actual factual evidence found of anything nefarious going on with Sabrina Prater. The only horror was the one she faced.
TikTok’s true crime community
People’s interest in the mysterious and strange happenings is a tale as old as time. So is the true-crime community, the amount of content that is out there examining the creepiest of cases, from famous serial killers to un-explainable disappearances. For a long time, the true-crime community was mostly focused on old cases, but with the coming of social media like TikTok, the attention has begun to focus on the more current mysteries. For those doing the sleuthing, the activity might seem like a worthwhile endeavor. You are helping to solve something and there is a true sense of a community coming together to save the day. But unfortunately most of the time, the only thing that happens is that innocent people end up being harassed. There have been cases of the internet sleuths actually solving a case and bringing justice, but this is mostly bound to actual police cases and not weird internet videos.
If there is a takeaway from this it is: that although I think that people do participate with the best intentions, If you just get caught up in a trend, then maybe try to stay out of it. Because before you know it you become one of those nefarious strangers that you are trying so hard to stop.
Dickson, E. (2021, 2 december). All She Wanted Was to Dance. Then TikTok Spun a Conspiracy Theory That She’s a Serial Killer. Rolling Stone. Geraadpleegd op 16 december 2021, van https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/tiktok-true-crime-conspiracy-theory-
McCoy, R. (2021, 6 december). I’m the TikTok Couch Guy. Here’s What It Was Like Being Investigated on the Internet. Slate Magazine. Geraadpleegd op 16 december 2021, van https://slate.com/technology/2021/12/tiktok-couch-guy-internet-sleuths.html
Rosenblatt, K. (2021, 12 oktober). “Couch Guy” is the latest viral TikTok to show how internet sleuthing can be toxic. NBC News. Geraadpleegd op 16 december 2021, van https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/viral/couch-guy-latest-viral-tiktok-show-how-internet-sleuthing-can-n1281041