TikTok videos, negative reviews and internet anger
Venting online is the new way to complain. Instead of leaving a one-star review on Yelp or Google, or sharing a bad experience with family and friends, angry customers can take to TikTok, go viral, and attack a place — or person — they believe is she wronged them.
Be it a bakery, tattoo parlor, airline or bar, anyone can put themselves at the mercy of thousands of angry bandits willing to bring justice to an organization or person they don’t know. Take TikToker @emilyraefit, a newlywed from Charleston, South Carolina, who had a negative experience with the bar she chose for her wedding after-party. She shared her story, which garnered 1.4 million views, and in a later video, she thanked her followers for decimating the company’s ratings.
“I didn’t expect everyone to embrace Google (reviews) the way they did,” she said in a recent video. “We finished them off in their stars so quickly. They’re already on the rise again, but it’s okay, there will be justice.”
Experts say there’s more to this phenomenon than a cake, a tattoo, a flight, or a night out. It’s about the urge to choose sides and the need to feel validated by others—even when they don’t really connect with either party.
“Social media, especially TikTok, has democratized consumer reach,” says Matthew Prince, associate professor of communications at Chapman University. “Whether you have 200 or two million followers, consumer content is spreading further than ever before. With that reach comes power.”
“A sense of powerlessness”: Why people online feel the urge to retaliate
The internet, and TikTok in particular, have taken venting to the next level in recent years. “When we feel like we’ve lost out, we look to those who tell us we’re right,” experts explain, and in viral videos, people can find thousands of people who agree with them. Those who follow recent incidents – like #CakeGate or #TattooGate – are intrigued by the drama, in part because people are predisposed to be social and take sides depending on who they identify with most.
“Usually when you feel like you’re being scammed, you feel a sense of powerlessness,” Andrea Bonior, clinical psychologist and host of the podcast Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice, previously told USA TODAY. “Often when you post about it, you try to reverse it: you get validation when people agree you’ve been wronged.”
People online often appreciate being able to connect with others and share their frustrations over an argument in which they are on the same side.
But does the punishment match the crime?
Internet culture has forever changed what it means to be famous: the average person with no connection to Hollywood can be thrust into the spotlight by millions of viewers overnight. Fans now have direct access to the people they adore – or hate – and they have the power to bring an unavoidable level of attention to an issue.
There’s also an aspect of glee: people on the internet take pleasure in watching a person fall from grace in real time, even if the punishment (hatred by thousands of people) doesn’t translate to the crime (baking a pie that the public has ) fits to be considered ugly or too expensive for a tattoo design).
“It gives people a temporary escape from their own lives and allows them to indulge in the thrill of someone else’s conflict without actually being directly involved,” says crisis management and public relations expert Molly McPherson. “It taps into our innate desire for justice and our fascination with human conflict. It’s like watching real reality television unfold in front of our eyes, and people can’t help but follow their feeds to see how it all unfolds.”
It’s “none of our business” — so why do we care about the TikTok drama?
“People have always been preoccupied with gossip and conflict,” said Gayle Stever, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Empire State University in New York. “In my mother’s day it was about the neighbors and it would have been the pastry shop down the road. Today, as the boundaries of our social worlds have been expanded, we are learning these things remotely, but the human inclination to participate in what is fundamentally none of our business is irresistible to many – not all – people.”
And that urge to band together is even stronger when drama takes center stage.
“When it comes to human relationships, there’s certainly a tendency toward negativity, and social media is no exception,” says Prince. In many cases, you derive, rationalize, and collect more from negative than positive experiences.