How TikTokers Have Investigated the Gabby Petito Case
The Gabby Petito case is the latest social media whodunit for a true-crime obsessed generation on TikTok
TikTok is on the Gabby Petito case. Are these true crime sleuths helping solve it?
The Gabby Petito case is the latest social media whodunit for a true-crime obsessed generation on TikTok.
The #GabbyPetito hashtag has more than 500 million views on the short-form video app. And many TikTok creators share updates including unconfirmed reports, screenshots of texts from amateur sleuths about their theories and their own feelings about the case.
Some of the crowd-sleuthing on social media has even turned up leads.
Authorities found human remains they believe to be Petito near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. A second search for her fiancé and the sole person of interest in the case, Brian Laundrie, came up empty. FBI agents on Monday searched the Florida home of Petito and Laundrie.
The two were living at his parents’ Florida home before leaving from Long Island in July on a weeks-long, cross-country adventure. Laundrie, who returned to Florida alone Sept. 1, intensified the mystery by refusing to discuss Petito’s whereabouts with authorities, then disappearing himself last week.
Miranda Baker, in videos posted to TikTok, said she and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie, who was hitchhiking, on Aug. 29 at Grand Teton Park. She said they notified police of the brief encounter.
Travel vloggers Jenn and Kyle Bethune said on Instagram they spotted Petito’s white van in GoPro footage they recorded while camping in late August. They shared the footage with the FBI before posting it online. What are thought to be Petito’s remains were found close to that spot.
Jenn Bethune said she reviewed the footage after someone tagged her in a social media post calling on people who had visited the national park on Aug. 27 to help investigators.
“Many people following (Petito) feel like they have a vested interest in her because she was a part of their lives as she told her stories, and when it abruptly ends because of a tragedy, they want to help find out who did it,” said Todd Shipley, president of the High Technology Crime Investigation Association.
But a missing person investigation this massive staffed by untrained volunteers can create problems for law enforcement and investigators trying to sort through thousands of leads, Shipley said.
“You have to evaluate what’s real and what’s not and sort through all of the information and determine what’s of value,” he told USA TODAY. “With thousands of tips coming in it can be both valuable and overwhelming.”
TikTok’s Obsession With The Gabby Petito Case Is Sparking A Debate Over How Much True Crime Fans Are Really Helping
A woman who was impacted by a high-profile crime in the past is calling out online sleuths while police are questioning why some people with potentially key information are turning to social media first.
Jessica Dean, 25, lived in the same neighborhood as the girls convicted in the infamous Slender Man stabbing in 2014. Her younger brother was friends with the perpetrators and the victim. She herself had known everyone involved in that case.
So Dean has never been able to consume true crime as a genre of entertainment; it hits too close to home, she told BuzzFeed News. And when she observed the recent fixation and social media frenzy surrounding the Gabby Petito case, she felt she needed to speak up.
Petito, a 22-year-old #VanLife influencer, went missing last month while on a cross-country road trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who returned to his home in Florida on Sept. 1 without her. Officials recently discovered human remains believed to belong to Petito. Laundrie remains a person of interest in the case. Police are now trying to locate him in Florida after his family said that they have not seen him since last Tuesday.
“From the bottom of my heart, I want to go into any video I see assuming they mean well and they want the best possible outcome, but it’s so hard to believe they actually care when they’re smiling and laughing [in their videos],” she said.
Dean said there is a kind of desensitizing effect that happens on social media when tragic real-life events get conflated with entertainment and are then leveraged for others to grow a following on their accounts.
“[I’ve seen TikToks] that would go viral, and they would make an update video saying everything they said in the [original] video was incorrect but they never bother to take the video down because now it’s gone viral and they don’t want to lose those views,” she said.
Dean also described the rush to know the latest information about the Petito case as giving people a kind of “high.”
“I don’t think they know this consciously, but I think there are a lot of creators who are covering her case who want to be the first person who finds the new clue,” she said. “As soon as you’re the first person to bring up something that no one’s thought of or seen before, that is an immediate ticket to go viral. I think a lot of people are getting high off of that and are trying to capitalize off of that, whether or not they realize that.”
Social media has played a major part in how the Petito case is being investigated.
TikTok user @mirandabaker_ is now reportedly working with police after she posted several videos alleging she had given a ride to Petito’s fiancé.
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How TikTokers Have Investigated the Gabby Petito Case
While law enforcement welcomes the public’s input and assistance on any case, the growing collection of “TikTok investigators” can be overwhelming because of the sheer large amount of data received and the quality of the information, Shipley said.
The HTCIA president said the input from social media users can be beneficial for the investigation because these users have the time to comb through online data that law enforcement might not.
He continued: “The downside for law enforcement can be the amount of this data received from the public and discerning the actual value of the data. So this is a double edged sword.”
“Law enforcement has to spend more time evaluating the information submitted via social media “as to its truthfulness and validity,” he explained.
Shipley also warned there have been cases in the past where misinformation has misdirected law enforcement investigations, which hampers the cases.
TikTok Videos on Gabby Petito Case
Among those who have shared several posts about Petito on TikTok is user Miranda Baker. She believes she and her boyfriend picked up Laundrie as a hitchhiker at Grand Teton National Park on August 29.
In a video post that had nearly 10 million views at the time of reporting on Sunday, Baker said she’d only reported the encounter to police after seeing TikTok videos about the case.
In Baker’s post, TikTok user Justin E. commented: “Omg I can’t believe I’m finding out more about this on TikTok than anywhere else.”
Another user, pieboo 21, commented: “Social media is piecing this together faster than police.” The comment received over 88,000 likes.
Another user Neyleenashley commented: “This is crazy! You’re a big piece of this case! You’re an angel and you don’t even know it.” The comment received over 30,000 likes at the time of reporting.
TikTok user Jessica Dean, who reportedly lived through a true-crime tragedy when she was in high school, told BuzzFeed News that some users have been “tremendously insensitive” about the case.
“A lot of videos would start with things, like, ‘Omg, guys, we are watching a true crime episode unfold in real life,’ or people saying, ‘I can’t wait to be a part of the Netflix documentary,'” Dean said.
How the Case of Gabrielle Petito Galvanized the Internet
The disappearance of a 22-year-old woman sparked national interest, in large part because of the online sleuthing of amateur detectives.
Paris Campbell, a comedian and writer, took up the case on social media early last week, when interest in the case was nascent. She first read about Ms. Petito in the Daily Mail on Sept. 13 but hadn’t seen much about the story on social media.
As a new mother, Ms. Campbell, 28, was compelled to use her platform (around 150,000 followers on TikTok at the time) to try and reunite Ms. Petito’s parents with their daughter.
Her first TikTok about Ms. Petito featured a “Missing” poster she’d seen in an article about the young woman’s disappearance. “Screenshot it, share this,” Ms. Campbell says in the video. “This girl is actively missing.”
In the days that followed, Ms. Campbell posted about 40 videos including news updates and analyses of Ms. Petito’s and Mr. Laundrie’s Instagram feeds. One commenter, who identified herself as Ms. Petito’s cousin, wrote that the Petito family appreciated the attention she had paid the case and hoped she would continue.
‘Guys, look at Spread Creek’: TikTok witness who noticed ‘creepy’ Laundrie alone directed police to Petito’s body
‘When you’re out in the middle of nowhere, your hackles go up when you see something that’s out of the ordinary,’ says witness
An eyewitness has told the FBI she saw Brian Laundrie alone and ‘acting weird’ close to the site where Gabby Petito’s body was found in a Wyoming national park.
Jessica Schultz told the San Francisco Chronicle she spotted the couple’s white Ford Transit van in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. several times in late August.
It was only after she was sent a photo of Mr Laundrie by a friend that she realised the significance of the sighting and reported it to law enforcement.
Ms Schultz also discussed her “creepy” encounter with the man she would later identify as Mr Laundrie on Tik Tok.
Gabby Petito: Autopsy rules homicide as FBI shamed by boyfriend’s disappearance and success of TikTok sleuths
Tip-offs from TikTok users provided investigators with vital clues, Andrew Buncombe writes
It was the news nobody wanted to hear, but which most most had probably been expecting.
The FBI announced that the remains found at the weekend at a campsite north of Jackson, Wyoming, were indeed those of Gabby Petito, and that the coroner believed her death was a homicide – namely that she had been killed by another person.