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‘Couch Guy’ Is Latest Viral TikTok To Show How Toxic Internet Sleuths Can Be

What was supposed to be an innocent video of a young woman surprising her boyfriend from a distance has become TIkTok’s new obsession – for all the wrong reasons.

The video, posted on September 21 by Lauren Zarras, shows her boyfriend, Robbie, now known on the internet as “Couch Guy,” surrounded by friends and sitting on a couch next to three other women.

Many of the 126,000 people who commented on the video, which had been viewed more than 60 million times on Thursday, suggested that Robbie was actually not happy to see Zarras. Some went so far as to accuse him of being unfaithful to him.

Shortly after it went viral, TikTokers began meticulously scrolling through the video, zooming in and slowing down parts of it to see if Robbie’s phone was being held by a woman next to him on the couch and analyzing the reactions. other people in the room. Zarras did not respond to a request for an interview.

This is just the latest example of detective videos on the Internet. While these videos are often well-intentioned, they can often prove problematic as well.

“It’s a phenomenon where people gravitate around the mysteries of the human condition and the human experience, whether it’s loss or, in this case, love and human relationships,” Brooke said. Erin Duffy, Associate Professor of Communication at Cornell University.

Experts say the desire to detect such videos looking for clues – from anything as innocuous as “Couch Guy” to something as serious as a murder case – is a symptom of the Internet obsession with real crime and his desire to gossip.

Armchair sleuths and Internet sleuths have long been a niche on the Internet. Websleuths, a site launched in 1999, is a dedicated community of thousands of people who focus on crime and the missing.

Nowadays, a new community of detectives has flourished on TikTok, leading to a culture of creators who have become well known for their ability to uncover treasures of information about the so-called main characters of the internet.

Sometimes these creative sleuths to identify racists and people spreading misinformation on topics like Covid vaccines.

In other cases, the desire to disclose a person’s details online can spill over to a case like “Couch Guy”.

Before “Couch Guy”, many detectives focused on the recent disappearance and death and Gabby Petito.

Some said detectives helped draw attention to the case – the #GabbyPetito hashtag had more than 1.4 billion views as of Thursday. Petito’s body was found on September 19 and police credit a YouTube video helping them narrow down their search area.

Others have said it has caused more harm than good, with TikTok housing numerous conspiracy theory videos about Petito’s death.

Duffy said the “Couch Guy” video was a “departure from the insidious nature of Internet sleuths” because “the stakes are not as deep” as for, say, a murder case.

But, she said, “The fact that so many people come together to piece together different elements of the video and use production techniques to focus on different elements of this very short clip is testament to the culture of inquiry. collective on the Internet and how it becomes a form of social bonding on the Internet. “

Morgan Forte, 23, experienced what happens when it feels like the internet has collectively decided to shell your life on the basis of a one-second clip.

Forte, from Jacksonville, Fla., Said she posted a short video of her parents dancing a few years ago. Some have claimed that Forte’s mother was cranky in the clip.

When the video exploded, gaining roughly 15 million views on the accounts that shared it, some commentators began to say that Forte’s father should leave his mother because of his behavior in the video.

“They thought they knew a lot about my parents’ life and their relationship from that – it was literally 10 seconds of them dancing,” Forte said. “They take it and use it completely and create their own narrative.”

Forte said that when “Couch Guy” went viral, she felt it sounded suspiciously like her own experience.

“You play in that crowd mentality, and it’s mass cyberbullying,” said Forte, who directed her own TikTok video defending Zarras.

TikTok user SoMyMomsATherapist, 47, a licensed marriage and family therapist and trauma psychotherapist, echoed Forte’s concerns about the people who delve into the life of “Couch Guy.”

“Everyone now thinks they’re on ‘CSI’,” said the therapist, who has instructed TikTok to identify him only by his username for security reasons. “They think they can do their own investigations. I think it’s this culture that takes hold that really makes it feel like we can come in and we can investigate whatever we can find, but we forget. that they are real people. “

Some users who commented on the “Couch Guy” video or made their own videos trying to decipher Robbie’s behavior, said their intentions were good.

Precious Fregene, 18, from Texas, said she made a video on “Couch Guy” because she wanted to give Zarras a “warning” that something felt in the video.

“We started this to show [Zarras]: ‘Hey, those are red flags. Please don’t ignore it, ”Fregene said. “But now people are trying to ‘solve it’ so that they can prove to her that she is wrong, in my opinion. “

She said she would like someone to tell her that something was wrong with her relationship if she was in Zarras’ shoes.

One factor in the flow of users who have seen and commented on the “Couch Guy” saga is that TikTok’s algorithm pushes content with high engagement to users’ “For You” page, the scrolling home page. infinity from TikTok.

“I’ve heard over and over again that the experience of creators is that platforms algorithmically reward drama, and for them that means their experience of hate and harassment is not tempered, because it fits in well. into the platform’s business model, ”Duffy said.

Forte and SoMyMomsATherapist, whose videos defending Zarras and Robbie were pushed to the “For You” page by the algorithm, said they were slammed in their comments sections for violating the “accepted narrative” that Robbie was unfaithful to Zarras.

“What I noticed was that there were a lot of people, I would say, ‘This is my clinical observation’, and they were like ‘No’,” SoMyMomsATerapist said. What I hear over there is, ‘I can’t even entertain this, because then I should lose what it gives me. “Because I think it gives them something.”

Forte’s comment section got so obnoxious – one commentator even accused her of sympathizing with a murder suspect – that she nearly deleted her video.

But then she remembered the message in her video: Someone’s life cannot and should not be deciphered in a one-second clip. And she knew he had to stay up.

“I think people need to hear what I had to say,” Forte said. “At the end of the day, I stand by what I said. I don’t regret it.”

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