How TikTokers Have Investigated the Gabby Petito Case

The investigation of the disappearance of Gabby Petito has seen several developments in recent days, including several based on information shared by users on social media platforms.

Petito went missing during a cross-country trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, who returned home from the trip alone on September 1 and was last seen by his family members on September 14.

On Monday, Laundrie's house in North Port, Florida (where the couple grew up and shared a home) was searched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and police.

The search was done on Monday after the FBI on Sunday discovered what is believed to be the body of Petito on the outskirts of a national park in Wyoming.

The case of Petito has hit closer to home for social media users, with Petito being a 22-year-old vlogger who had been documenting her recent travels on Instagram.

As of early Sunday, videos on TikTok with the #gabbypetito hashtag were reported to have been viewed more than 268 million times, while dozens of other hashtags—such as #findgabbypetito and #gabbypetitoupdate—attracted millions more.

Speaking to Newsweek, Todd G. Shipley, president of the High Technology Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA), an international nonprofit, said the recent influx of TikTokers dissecting the Petito case can be "a double edged sword."

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.

"If law enforcement finds information that social media is spreading they need to be vigilant about providing corrected information to prevent an miscarriage of the process," the HTCIA president said.

Shipley told Newsweek that "online vigilantism is not new." But what's interesting about this particular case is that it has "captured the attention of social media users and the wider view of the world because of social media," he said.

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 Haley Toumaian has posted at least 47 TikTok videos about Petito, including one about her Spotify playlist, and said she has been inundated with tips about the case.

"The amount of people who have sent me information, tagged me in videos, etc is insane and I am so proud of this community I'm building who cares about Gabby," the TikTok user told Newsweek on Sunday.

Asked why she began posting these videos, Toumaian said the case "struck a chord" with her. "I am similar in age to her, also a YouTuber, am engaged...we have a lot of similarities."

@robandhaley

Reply to @laurynmack1g what do you guys think about this? #GabbyPetito #whereisgabbypetito #findgabbypetito

♬ original sound - Haley Toumaian

"People quickly became very invested and I just felt a pull to keep updating. I've seen the power of social media in other true crime cases, so I figured I should keep posting because you never know who you'll reach."

While some have praised TikTok sleuths in their efforts to share information that could potentially help the case move forward, others have been criticized for using Petito's case to drive up views and followers and their insensitive posts about the case.

@bloodbathandbeyond

que up the spooky music guys we got another update 🤪 #truecrime #psa

♬ original sound - Chaotic Stupid

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.

Newsweek has contacted TikTok for comment.

Update 09/22/21,10:07 a.m. ET: This article was updated with comment from the High Technology Crime Investigation Association (HTCIA).

A makeshift Gabby Petito memorial in Florida.
A makeshift memorial dedicated to Gabby Petito seen on September 20, 2021 in North Port, Florida. Octavio Jones/Getty Images