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This article was published on September 24, 2021

TikTok’s algorithm is helping ‘psychics’ exploit Gabby Petito’s death

Not all scam artists are psychics, but all psychics are scam artists

TikTok’s algorithm is helping ‘psychics’ exploit Gabby Petito’s death
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan covers human-centric artificial intelligence advances, politics, queer stuff, cannabis, and gaming. Pronouns: He/him Tristan covers human-centric artificial intelligence advances, politics, queer stuff, cannabis, and gaming. Pronouns: He/him

Opportunistic, predatory human beings claiming to be ‘psychics’ have taken their scams to TikTok in order to exploit the tragic murder of Gabby Petito. And the algorithm’s giving them a boost.

File under: Absolutely disgusting.

Up front: 22-year old Gabby Petito, a travel influencer, recently went missing. Their case reached the public spotlight due to scrutiny over another person’s involvement and is currently an ongoing homicide investigation.

As is usually the case in high-profile homicide investigations, so-called ‘psychics’ have come out of the woodwork to try and capitalize on human trauma and make a few bucks peddling their millennia-old scam.

In the modern era that means they’re all over social media hawking their horrific schemes. And, on TikTok at least, they’re getting a boost from the algorithm.

As of the time of this article’s publishing, typing the words “medium” (an alternate term for psychic) or “psychic” into the app’s search window brings up auto-completed recommendations for Gabby Petito.

a screenshot demonstrating the Tik Tok algorithm auto-completing "Gabby Petito" in searches for psychics

a screenshot demonstrating the Tik Tok algorithm auto-completing "Gabby Petito" in searches for psychics

Background: TikTok has nearly a billion active monthly users. It’s content-surfacing algorithms rely on a combination of popularity and subject-weighting to determine what terms are listed as suggestions when users enter queries.

Because these systems are black box AI, there’s no way to know exactly why the algorithms choose a term or why they choose one topic over another.

But we can make some educated guesses. It’s almost certain that a large volume of people are searching for “psychic” and “Gabby Petito.” And, because a significant number of people apparently insist on believing in absolute poppy-cock such as the existence of psychics, that makes sense.

Plus, Insider covered it earlier today (hat tip), so there’s probably a bump of people searching for gee whiz reasons who don’t legitimately believe in psychics.

The problem: Normally, rational people are better off ignoring these “psychic” huckster-clowns. But in situations like this, they’re outright dangerous and harmful.

As Insider’s article points out:

Many psychics aren’t spreading awareness about the facts of Petito’s case, but rather claiming to have insight into details that are yet to be uncovered. And even when their theories are baseless or proved to be untrue, they keep going — to the tune of millions of views.

Quick take: What kind of dumpster-fire of a human being knowingly concocts and spreads lies and misinformation about an ongoing homicide case?

No psychic, in the history of human existence, has ever contributed to the solving of any criminal case by supernatural means. Only harm can come from spreading these made-up untruths.

Not to mention the sheer disrespect for the victim and their loved ones.

The fact that TikTok‘s algorithms are propagating this dangerous nonsense clearly demonstrates the network either doesn’t recognize the potential for harm done by these “psychics,” or it doesn’t care.

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