The disappearance of Gabby Petito has received worldwide interest, partly because of the 22-year-olds presence as an influencer on TikTok, where she and her fiancé Brian Laundrie are now the subject of thousands of videos about the mystery. But some users think the ‘true crime’ trend is harmful.
Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie set out on a #VanLife trip in the summer of 2021, but only Laundrie returned home from the trip. Despite Petito’s social media posts portraying a perfect, loving trip, police recorded footage of the couple being stopped over a potential domestic violence incident showed a very different picture.
After her disappearance, fiance Brian Laundrie was declared a person of interest in the case, but later disappeared himself a few days after returning home. Petito’s family say he is in hiding.
On September 20, a body was found matching the description of Petito, but it has not 100% been confirmed yet by forensic examinations. All of this has led to massive interest on social media, especially TikTok, with hashtags such as #findgabby and #whereisgabbypetito attracting hundreds of millions of views.
Gabby Petito TikToks criticized
This spread of ‘true crime’ TikTok videos have been criticized for some for making light of a serious situation, and exploiting a woman’s disappearance for views and attention.
One viral TikTok by @bloodbathandbeyond, real name Jessica Dean, has gone viral on the platform for calling out this type of content around the Petito case.
She imitates the online sleuths taking on the role of a detective without any expertise, and potentially spreading misinformation as a result.
@bloodbathandbeyondque up the spooky music guys we got another update 🤪 ##truecrime ##psa♬ original sound – Chaotic Stupid
At the end of the video, Dean also highlights that the media and social media attention given to the Petito case outweighs that of similar situations involving “black or brown people.”
Dean told BuzzFeed News that she finds many of these TikToks “insensitive” regarding the case.
Two weeks before Petito went missing, police released bodycam footage showing her in tears and explaining mental health struggles. Commentators have said this situation is an example of how social media rarely presents the true lives of influencers, instead just a manufactured ‘perfect’ version.
Similarly, the TikTok videos about the situation could be making a very serious missing persons case into a trivialized form of entertainment in the ‘true crime’ genre of content.