Mobile messaging app TikTok has already had its first murder-related incident, and the company is scrambling to fix the problem: the T. Mouse program that allows users to add customized effects to photos.
Brett Sykes, 19, of Arlington, Virginia, was arrested on Thursday in connection with his parents’ murder. According to the AP, prosecutors have alleged that Sykes killed his parents, Vicki and Mark Smith, in their Arlington home on Dec. 4. Authorities have allegedly charged him with first-degree murder.
But the sketchy early narrative swirling around the case – Sykes attacked his parents and killed them – isn’t the story. Authorities told the Post that the family’s deaths might have been a result of a murder-suicide, and that the killing may have occurred as a part of a staged scheme in which the parents were preparing for their grandkids’ upcoming Christmas, per the Post.
As investigators continued to look for evidence last week, a video called “Life is Beautiful” appears to have surfaced, shared by Brett Sykes’ friend Julia Connelly in which she talks about the way her daughter had been helping her daughter, Instagrammers Chloe and Ava Snyder, “overload their screens.” According to the Washington Post, the video shows Chloe, born with an undiagnosed blood disorder, struggling to constantly log on to the app while watching her favorite thing: music videos on her phone. The video ends with the sound of a disturbing growl.
According to Connelly, Sykes installed an app onto his daughter’s phone known as TikTok. The application, which sometimes works with heavy-duty applications, can be used to do a variety of things on phones. But TikTok has come under fire since being revealed last week as the official name of the app.
On Twitter, some users likened the app to “porn.” Others called the app “extortion” and “evil,” arguing that it was a violation of the app’s terms of service. That’s because users can add “tricks” such as blurring a photo or hiding a phone number, or any number at all, in the background of a video that users share to TikTok.
One video shows how an image, manipulated in the background by tapping with one hand and pressing with the other, gets vomited on and vomited away by users. The background features overlaid graphic words.
Similar videos have been popping up on TikTok of teenagers being slain and the background edited to hide a person’s face.
Many TikTok creators have worked to distance themselves from the app, which allows users to share videos that play automatically on the home screen as they go through a day or scroll through their phone.
“This horrific act represents a dark, foreign side of social media,” Kevin Wang, CEO of TikTok creator Slice of Thread, which has more than 2 million users, said in a statement. “We offer our heartfelt condolences to the victim’s family, friends and loved ones.”
“This behavior is not a reflection of the large majority of users, nor the app in general, and we will continue to do everything we can to stamp it out,” Wang said.