The Chinese-owned viral video app said it had taken action against ‘Satanic panic’ videos, but The Independent found that its own algorithms are still spreading such content
TikTok is removing videos that spread Satanic conspiracy theories about the Astroworld disaster, but its efforts are struggling to stem the tide.
So-called ‘Satanic panic’ videos have racked up tens of millions of views on the Chinese viral video app, spuriously claiming that the deadly crowd crush in Houston, Texas last Friday was part of an occult ritual.
TikTok said on Tuesday some of the those videos broke its rules and would be removed, also telling Rolling Stonethat it was taking action to prevent such content from being suggested to users within TikTok’s search feature.
But on Wednesday the app’s own algorithms were still spreading such material, with five of the top ten suggested search queries for “Astroworld” relating to conspiracy theories on The Independent’s device.
Simple mispellings such as “Astroworld conspiricy” and “Astroworld denomic” (for ‘demonic’) ranked more highly than “Astroworld raw footage” and “Astroworld2021”. At one point earlier in the day, they ranked above “Astroworld” itself.
Tapping on those search suggestions yielded videos claiming that festival tickets were “a ticket to enter hell”, describing founder and headliner Travis Scott’s concert as “a demonic anointing”, and accusing Mr Scott of “hypnotising” fans and “intended for this to happen”.
Mr Scott has said he had no idea the tragedy was unfolding while he was on stage and was “devastated” when he found out. Reports have claimed that did not know about the deaths until the small hours of Saturday morning.
The videos seen by The Independent had been viewed nearly 15 million times and received about 1.9 million likes.
At least eight people have been killed and hundreds injured at Astroworld, with multiple lawsuits and two criminal investigations now seeking to determine how the disaster happened.
Many videos have seized on Astroworld’s set design as signs of a demonic conspiracy, noting that guests entered the festival through the mouth of a giant sculpture of Mr Scott’s head and that he gave his performance in front of a gaping, glowing portal-like structure.
But such symbology is common in music, and Joseph Russo, who teaches the anthropology of conspiracy theories at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, told The Independent that Astroworld’s designers seemed to have deliberately aimed for a “somewhat demonic aesthetic”.
TikTok’s rules forbid “conspiratorial content” that “denies a violent or tragic event occurred”, as well as “conspiracy theories used to justify hateful ideologies” and “misinformation related to emergencies that induces panic”.
As is common for tech companies, TikTok declined to say which rules had been broken. The company did not respond to requests for comment.