In June 2021, a then-21-year-old Craig Moffat (@craig.moffat) was taking a train in Scotland from Edinburgh to Aberdeen for a night out. His friends were supposed to meet him at another stop but missed the train, so he had a few hours to kill by himself.
“I was testing out my new phone that I bought the day before,” Moffat told In The Know by Yahoo. “I wanted to go out for dinner, [and] halfway through my meal, I had the idea of creating a fake TikTok.”
Moffat does not remember why he thought it would be funny. At the time, he had 3,000 followers — “No one’s going to see it,” he said — so he didn’t give it much thought.
He compiled footage from sitting alone on the train and from his dinner, and decided to pretend he’d been stood up on a first date. He pretended to include updates like, “It’s been 35mins and she still hasn’t shown up…”. He pretended it was the first date he’d gone on after two years of being single. He uploaded the video and captioned it, “Maybe it’s not time to get back out there just yet…”
His friends arrived and they went out as planned.
“I checked the video at some point and it only had around 100 views,” he said. “Then a few days later, I was driving to work and I was listening to a story about a guy from Edinburgh getting stood up on a date and I was thinking to myself, ‘My God, that’s actually pretty sad, who would do such a thing?’ Then, at the back of my mind, I was like, ‘Wait a second…'”
His TikTok had exploded. The video had racked up 2 million or 3 million views at that point, and his following had shot up to 90,000. His video now has over 23 million views and over 44,000 comments.
“Thousands of people were messaging me,” Moffat said. “So many news [outlets] were asking for interviews. As much as I would have loved to do them, I just felt so bad about lying to everyone. I decided to leave it and just forget about all the attention and just hoped it would all die down.”
Moffat went back and forth over whether he should delete the video, but he said by the time it hit 5 million views, it was already getting reposted everywhere. Eight months later, he started posting unrelated TikToks — one even racked up over 3 million views. But he still felt bad about lying.
“I never expected the video to go viral. I just thought it would maybe hit like 1,000 to 2,000 views and that would be it,” he said. “Now, after so long, I was hoping the heat would have died down, so I decided to break the silence, tell the truth.”
He, again, didn’t think anyone would watch it. Since posting the admission a week ago, it’s amassed over 50,000 views.
“Are you kidding me???” one commenter replied.
“You just trying to save face from being stood up,” another person speculated.
“I’ve had a few people message me about the thing being fake. Not everyone is pleased about it,” Moffat said. “But goes to show, you can’t believe everything you see on the internet.”
Media literacy is a concern, especially when it comes to viral videos — whether they’re deepfakes or made-up TikTok trends that can be used in fearmongering parents. Some can be relatively harmless, like a fake fight breaking out on a plane, but it’s proof of how relatively easy it can be to make anything go viral, whether or not it’s true.
In March, TikTok user Dafna Diamant filmed herself walking home from a Hinge date. She told the camera that she was so turned off by her date refusing to spend $3 on a cheese slice for his burger that she pretended to go to the bathroom and left the restaurant. The video surged to over 7 million views.
In reality, Diamant and her date both agreed that if someone refused an upcharge on a date, it felt like “cheapening out.” She said it inspired the idea for the TikTok and the date was onboard with it. Neither of them expected that it would go viral or that strangers would comment that Diamant would “die alone.” Diamant even posted a follow-up saying they had plans for a second date.
Ian A. Anderson, a behavioral scientist and doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, Dornsife, argued in a paper that the spreading and sharing of misinformation isn’t from “laziness” but is a reward system built into social media platforms.
“This type of behavior has been rewarded in the past by algorithms that prioritize engagement when selecting which posts users see in their news feed, and by the structure and design of the sites themselves,” Anderson wrote.
On TikTok in particular, there is a community called #DatingTok where dating and relationship stories thrive. Because users interested in dating stories were more likely to engage with Moffat and Diamant’s content, both of which offered their own kind of drama, it was showing up on more people’s feeds.
While these fake dating stories might appear relatively harmless on the surface, they could be contributing to a larger issue. The New York Times argued in an article that the deeper problem is that “the same techniques are being applied to posts that sow political division [and] advance conspiracy theories.”
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