Why viral trends are hard to track

As various different trends continued to go viral on the hugely popular video platform TikTok, one social media expert said trying to trace the origins of such trends can be difficult.

Earlier this week, law enforcement officials in South Carolina connected a series of hoax calls from active shooters at schools to a challenge on TikTok. And a recent trend sparked rumors on TikTok in which users cooked chicken with NyQuil, prompting a warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Dr. Jeffrey Blevins, a professor of journalism at the University of Cincinnati, explained to news week that finding out how these trends started could be a challenge, adding that the NyQuil chicken trend was something that went viral “a couple of years ago.”

tik tok
In this photo illustration, the TikTok app download page is displayed on an Apple iPhone on August 7, 2020 in Washington, DC. On October 5, 2022, law enforcement officials in South Carolina linked a series of hoax calls from active shooters at schools to a TikTok challenge.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“Somebody made a single post about it, and in retrospect, it started getting a lot of attention. So, this may have started a while ago. And if you’re looking for something current on TikTok, it may not be at that time.” certain people can delete the post,” said Blevins, whose investigative background is in social media.

Blevins’ comments come shortly after South Carolina’s Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott linked several hoax calls from active shooters at schools in the state to a TikTok trend. However, local media reports and news weekThe analysis itself could not find the challenge on TikTok.

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The FBI also announced that it was investigating a series of hoax calls from active shooters in South Carolina, though it did not mention a TikTok challenge associated with the calls.

“The FBI is aware of numerous swatting incidents in which an active shooter is reported at a school…although we have no information indicating a specific, credible threat, we will continue to work with our local, state and local staff.” . federal law enforcement partners to collect, share and act on threat information as it comes to our attention,” the agency said in a statement, according to Justin Dougherty of WHNS.

Blevins said there’s no way to substantiate that a trend like fake active shooter calls originated on TikTok.

“Someone can just say, ‘Oh well, it’s a TikTok trend,'” he said. “Well, how do we know that? There’s really no way to verify it, so you really have to focus on the illegal behavior itself rather than the trend.”

On the NyQuil chicken trend again, Blevins said that “just because these challenges are available, it’s not necessarily that you put total mind control on people. You might be encouraging them to do something stupid, dangerous, illegal or harmful, but everyone who saw that, not everyone did that activity.”

Blevins also said that TikTok could “absolutely” control trends and challenges. But he pointed out that since TikTok is not a US-based company, it is difficult for the government to step in and force it to do so.

“We rely on the goodwill, so to speak, of these companies, but they all dictate what the standards are for their community and whether they will enforce them,” he said.

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In response to the NyQuil chicken trend, a TikTok spokesperson previously said news week that the app “has seen a very small amount of content related to this ‘trend’ and is actively removing content that violates our guidelines and blocking related hashtags to further discourage engagement.”

“The safety and well-being of our users is TikTok’s top priority. As we make clear in our Community Guidelines, we do not allow content that encourages, promotes, or glorifies dangerous challenges that could lead to injury,” the spokesperson added.

news week He reached out to TikTok for comment on reports of a fake active shooter challenge, but did not receive a response in time for posting.

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