Opinion

Are TikTok Users Helping or Harming the Gabby Petito Case?

By Lisa Striffolino

lisa.striffolino@spartans.ut.edu

The investigation of missing 22-year-old Gabby Petito that began in the beginning of September has sparked massive interest on several social media platforms, especially TikTok.

If you have Tiktok, or even any relative access to the internet, chances are that you’ve heard about this case. Petito embarked on a cross country road-trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie in the beginning of the summer. On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to his home in North Port without Petito. About a week after not being able to get in contact with Petito, her parents reported her missing to police, but it was not until Sept. 17 that Laundrie’s parents told police they had not seen their son since Sept. 14. Petito’s remains were found in Wyoming on Sept. 19, and Laundrie has yet to be found.

Now, social media can be a wonderful thing. It can be a tool that brings people together and helps people find tons of information right at their fingertips. Yet, it can also make it easy for information to blow up in ways that are neither helpful nor useful.

In terms of this case, having social media as a tool to help search for this 22-year-old missing girl is so beneficial. Reposting and spreading awareness to help find missing people is what social media should be used for with these types of cases. I think it is important to point out, though, that there are not enough missing persons’ cases that get this type of helpful attention. Not by far. That is something that needs to change. 

People on social media took this reposting and spreading awareness to a whole new level, and not a good one. Tiktok users began posting conspiracy theories about what happened between Petito and Laundrie and how it happened.

Many of these users took the case to be more like an episode of Criminal Minds where they can feel free to try to figure out who did it and how with no concrete evidence and immediately post it on the internet for the world to see. 

The difference is that this is a real, ongoing investigation, and there are real people out there grieving the loss of Petito. The main problem with this constant influx of videos is that with crazy conspiracy theories circulating the internet, the spread of misinformation is bound to happen. Petito’s friends and family deserve to know only the hard facts to help find Laundrie and bring him, or whoever may be responsible, to justice.

Like I said, social media isn’t all that bad for this case. These TikToks and posts about Petito and Laundrie caught the eye of Miranda Baker, who later realized that she had picked up Laundrie who was hitchhiking in Wyoming. This was an important part of the case, and may not have been discovered had social media users not given as much attention to this investigation as it had.

It’s just those crazy theories about exactly what happened leading to Petito’s murder that are not useful to police or to the public. I think some people need to stop treating this case like fiction, and realize that there are people who are alive right now who are personally affected by Petito’s loss. I can only hope that justice will eventually be served, with or without the help of social media.

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