If you’re thinking of scamming someone on a date, think again: You may end up in a viral TikTok.
That’s what happened to one man in New York City over the weekend, after a woman he slept with called him out for stealing a pair of shoes from her apartment, surreptitiously deleting his number off her phone and then gifting the shoes to his girlfriend, whom he didn’t tell his date about. In a follow-up TikTok, the woman revealed the man reached out to her after her initial video went viral and that he admitted to stealing her shoes and gave them back − but only after first gaslighting her about the incident.
The internet, and especially TikTok in recent years, has taken venting to the next level. When we feel we’ve been given the short end of the stick, we seek out those who will tell us we’re right, experts say, and, in viral videos, people are able to find thousands who agree with them.
“When you feel like you are getting scammed, there’s usually a sense of powerlessness,” Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and host of the “Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice” podcast, previously told USA TODAY. “Posting about it often tries to reverse that: giving you validation when people agree that you were wronged.”
Why do we care so much about the viral TikTok shoe thief?
It’s not just people that are getting putting on blast on TikTok (Remember West Elm Caleb?). The viral #TattooGate and #CakeGate controversies involved unhappy customers accusing businesses of scamming them out of quality goods and services.
These instances go viral because people feel vindicated in seeking justice on someone else’s behalf, even if that person is a stranger.
“It gives people a temporary escape from their own lives, allowing them to indulge in the thrill of someone else’s conflict without actually being directly involved,” crisis management and public relations expert Molly McPherson previously said. “It taps into our innate desire for justice and our fascination with human conflict. It’s like watching real-life reality television play out in front of our eyes, and people can’t help but follow along in their feeds to see how it all unfolds.”
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People on the internet also often appreciate connecting with others in a shared frustration over an argument in which they’ve taken the same side.
“This builds allies and alliances that empower the individual posting their issue,” Cheyenne Bryant, a life coach who has appeared on “Teen Mom: Family Reunion” and has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology, previously said. “It enables them to increase momentum and aids them in building a culture around the issue. It can also be cathartic for them: making them feel as though they have a support system and are not alone.”
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Why are true crimes and scams everywhere in our culture?
In the era of online dating, romance scams remain a serious concern. Nearly 70,000 people reported a romance scam in 2022 and losses at $1.3 billion, the Federal Trade Commission reported. Romance scams occur when a person takes on a fake online identity to gain a victim’s trust in order to ultimately steal from the victim, according to the FBI.
Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, previously explained we are “biologically wired to pay attention to danger,” which speaks to our collective fascination with the true crime genre and sordid tales of scamming, as told in documentaries like 2022’s “The Tinder Swindler.”
“It is much more important for our survival, historically, to know what will eat us, than what will make us happy or what flowers are pretty,” she said. Look no further than the way we gawk at a car wreck on the highway, she added. “All this true crime, aside from the fact that it activates our curiosity because we can’t feel safe if we don’t know what’s going on … we also want to know, ‘What can I learn from this to protect myself?'”
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Plus, drama has always had a way of gripping people and banding them together; now it’s just happening on a much larger scale.
“People have always been engaged by gossip and conflict,” Gayle Stever, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at Empire State University of New York, previously said. “In my mother’s day, it was about the neighbors, and it would have been the cake shop down the road. Today, because the boundaries of our social worlds have expanded, we learn about these things from a distance, but the human proclivity to weigh in on something that is essentially none of our business is irresistible for many – not all – people.”
Contributing: Hannah Yasharoff and Erin Jensen
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