Social media sleuths are changing the true crime world for the better


Maggie Fliszar, Contributer


What started as an app for middle schoolers for posting lip syncs and fifteen second dances, has developed into the epicenter for true crime enthusiasts and criminal investigators. TikTok has grown to be one of the most influential social media apps for the highly coveted 18-34 year old age range with 65.9 million active monthly users in the United States alone. A deeper dive into TikTok reveals a multitude of online communities to include “CrimeTok.” This large community of users who often refer to themselves as “true crime junkies,” has garnered over 3.3 billion views under the commonly used hashtags referring  to “CrimeTok.” Sharing stories, discussing theories, and delving into considerably minute details of crime cases are common practice within the community.

Upon entrance to the community of “CrimeTok,” users are immediately bombarded by an endless supply of videos disputing evidence and conclusions made in criminal cases. Users often dissect graphic, original crime scene imagery and police body camera footage. Often, but not always, a “trigger warning” is displayed before the imagery is shown.

TikToks describing famous killers like Charles Manson and The Son of Sam are some of the most viewed videos found under the “CrimeTok” hashtag, gathering 7.8 million views and 1.1 million views respectively. However, less popularized cases, such as the murder of Coleen Ritzer, accumulated a staggering 21.9 million views alone. One user even commented on her personal experience with Ritzer, writing in a comment that received 102,000 likes, “She was my friend in high school. This rocked our town. It was horrible and broke so many hearts. She was a truest wonderful person and so sweet.” Others expressed their surprise at not hearing of this case before discovering it on TikTok, with one user writing “How have I never heard of this case?”

As the country focuses on the tragic homicide of Gabby Petito, some voiced their disappointment that similar cases have not received the same amount of media attention. The TikTok hashtag “Gabby Petito” currently has 1.1 billion views, and the top video under the hashtag has nearly 2.5 million likes. Meanwhile, in Florida, the state where Petito was living before she was killed, 221 people were killed in domestic violence incidents in 2019 alone, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. 

With TikTok continuing to grow in influence and reach, “CrimeTok” may become the new way for families to spread awareness of  their loved one’s cases. Before the rise of social media apps, families often had to rely on television or radio news to spread information about the case. Posters portraying the face of a missing loved one were posted, but often would only reach those who were willing to stop and look at it. With the use of TikTok in today’s world, families can post information regarding their missing family member and the video has the potential to land on the “For You” page of the 65.9 million users in the United States.

The potential to reach such a large audience has already enticed one user named Isaac, who posted footage of his missing sister the last time she was seen. Isaac’s video captioned “Spread the message, my sister is missing and someone has her stabbed around Palmdale, CA” has received 1.2 million views and more than a thousand comments. This strategy not only increases awareness about lesser known cases, but also saves families thousands of dollars that would have otherwise been spent on printing materials.  Presumably, many others will follow Isaac’s strategy as the “CrimeTok” community continues to grow. 

While the legitimacy of some video creators under the hashtag is understandably questioned, the potential benefits of this budding social media community are undeniable. As people continue to increase their time spent on TikTok, families are finding a platform to share information about their loved one’s cases. Cases that may not have received the attention they needed in the past are now showing up on millions of people’s phones everyday. “CrimeTok” is giving the true crime community the opportunity to use their passion for crime as a means to do good and with a growing population of TikTok users, the community has the potential to do even more.