Two weeks ago, when the harrowing news broke of Itaewon’s crowd crush over the Halloween weekend, the world was gripped by shock, grief and a series of unanswered questions. The tragedy wasn’t just any typical casualty, but rather one that left many in confusion to how the incident could have transpired.
I, like many others dove deeper in search, from one headline to the next—as more information from survivors and authorities came through. And as if in response to my questions, my TikTok feed unceremoniously answered. Post after post had users reporting with the ‘Green Screen’ effect, endeavouring to report on the incident, spliced with ‘hows’ and ‘whys’. There were also many first-hand reports from the survivors themselves, teary-eyed as they recounted the traumatic incident, while going into details that major news outlets couldn’t get hold of just yet.
@iamgrazygrace South Korea #itaewon incident report #southkorea #halloween #news ♬ original sound – Grazy Grace
As the feed sated my curiosity, I fed the algorithm in return—only to glean an outpouring of more invasive reports from users that had no implication in the incident, but rather a regurgitation of the heartbreaking facts layered over videos and images from the scene itself. Unconsciously, I was doomscrolling while awashed with a multitude of emotions. I was heartbroken for the immense loss while at the same time, mildly irate with contempt for these users, questioning their intent behind creating the videos. Were they prompted to create for the purpose of informing and educating or was it just another hot piece of social commentary to rack up engagement on their own profiles?
Of course, this was no new phenomenon. Apart from being a hotbed for emerging beauty trends, styling know-how and hilarious real-life happenings, TikTok is a conduit for commentary reporting—anything that stems from something trivial to bearing witness to a couple having a cold war over dinner to the off-kilter in the vein of true crime. Appetites for darker and more macabre content have grown exponentially on TikTok—with the format easily digestible, rendered light-hearted at times even while recounting gruesome crimes. At times, it feels that the community has been desensitised when it comes to grave and morally unjustifiable matters: I note this as I watch a TikTok influencer doing a one-minute make-up tutorial while retelling a true incident of a girl getting assaulted by her own family members. In the comments section, there’s a good toss-up between people expressing their horror as well as enquiries on what products were used for her nose contour. It seems the depravity of the actual crime feels lost in the process of it all.
@kathiamarie6 Part 1 : Makeup + Crime Story comment down below your thoughts!! #makeupandcrime #crimestories #makeuptutorial #ItsOurHome ♬ original sound – Rebekah T.
One can’t deny that TikTok’s medium has made news reporting more palatable, at least for the current zeitgeist to how we absorb information and resonate with topics discussed. Compared to Instagram, TikTok is the egalitarian sister, where voices, no matter how small can be funnelled through. After all, you don’t need to chock up 100k followers just to have 100k people see your video. That’s the beauty in the algorithm, while at the same time, a dangerous breeding ground for misinformation to spread—especially in the wake of news circulating around a global catastrophe. Not to mention, the devastating impact it could have on those who were directly affected by the tragedy itself.
On one hand, with official news channels, there’s the issue with information mining—to gate-keep sensitive or provoking information that could cause global unrest. At times, you almost feel like you’re not getting the full story. While on the other end of the spectrum, TikTok sheds more clarity, yet inundating the user with third-party opinions within their 60 seconds of fame. It is all in all, a double-edged sword—where the onus is on the user to tread carefully with what our timelines are showing us as well as for creators to take some social responsibility while reporting on worldwide incidents or any material that might be highly sensitive. Considering every common man’s power of influence on the feed, no one is “just a TikToker”.