- TikTok videos claiming that the Titanic did not sink at all have surfaced on the social media platform.
- TikTok’s algorithm and engagement-based recommendation system make it a powerful platform for spreading conspiracy theories, experts say.
- While the platform says it removes posts that cross the “significant harm” threshold, other seemingly benign content laced with falsehoods remains intact.
The Titanic inspired a heartbreaking blockbuster and expeditions to its watery grave, including a fatal one this week, but viral TikTok videos peddle a startling conspiracy theory: The ship never sank.
More than a century after it sank in the North Atlantic Ocean, wild myths and urban legends about the luxury liner have continued to swirl, including that it was cursed by a mummified Egyptian priestess.
Even more surprising is a wave of TikTok videos claiming that the Titanic didn’t sink at all. Many of them have racked up millions of views, never mind that the claim doesn’t hold water.
“The Titanic never really sank,” read a video by a TikTok user called “The Deep Dive,” which garnered more than four million views.
“Everyone is familiar with the story of the unstoppable ship that perished after hitting an iceberg, but that may not be the case.”
The video opens with a dramatic portrait of the Titanic, its stern crashing into the stormy waves, as an imperious male voice continues to claim that it was swapped with her sister ship, the Olympic.
He alluded to an oft-repeated conspiracy theory that the company that built the Titanic deliberately sank the Olympic, another of its ships, as part of an elaborate insurance fraud.
A similar TikTok video claiming that “the Titanic never sank” garnered 11 million views. The video was removed earlier this year in what appeared to be a rare intervention after it was widely reported by the US media.
TikTok’s algorithm and engagement-based recommendation system, which creates personal feeds for users based on their preferences, make it a powerful platform for spreading conspiracy theories, experts say.
“This makes it easier for this type of content to spread,” Megan Brown, a senior research scientist at New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics, told AFP.
“The other factor that makes it easy for historical conspiracy theories to spill over onto other types of conspiracy theories or misinformation is that it’s usually not moderated content.”
While the platform says it removes posts that cross the “significant harm” threshold, such as violence or harassment, other seemingly benign content laced with falsehoods remains intact.
That approach, the researchers say, underscores a key dilemma facing social media platforms: How to deal with an explosion of misinformation without giving users the impression that they are restricting free speech?
That policy gap has given rise to a breed of users who thrive on disproven conspiracy theories that generate strong engagement, like the Earth is flat and the 1969 moon landing was a hoax.
That also includes the Titanic TikTok influencers, focused on the ship that sank in 1912 during its maiden voyage from England to New York after hitting an iceberg.
The proliferation of Titanic conspiracy theories on the popular platform may seem benign compared to other falsehoods that result in real-world harm, but historians say it remains vital to debunk them.
They worry that conspiracy theories will affect the way a generation of young people, who often rely on platforms like TikTok as their main source of information, learn about the tragedy.
“The sad part is that a lot of the people who follow this kind of stuff are teenagers,” said Charles A. Haas, founder of the Titanic International Society, which is dedicated to researching the stricken ship.
“Unfortunately, they are not willing to dig,” Haas told the New York Times.
TikTok influencers and celebrities are increasingly replacing journalists as the main source of news for young people, according to a report published this month by the Britain-based Reuters Institute.
The report found that 55 percent of TikTok and Snapchat users and 52 percent of Instagram users get their news from “personalities,” compared to 33-42 percent who get their news from mainstream outlets and journalists on those platforms.
That was reflected in how millions of young users took to TikTok this week for updates on the five people aboard a tourist submersible that disappeared in the North Atlantic Ocean on their way to visit the Titanic’s seabed wreckage, with a ticket. of $250,000.
All five died after the ship suffered what the US Coast Guard called a “catastrophic implosion” in the depths of the ocean.
“What if this is all a cover up?” asked a young TikTok user, referring to the wall-to-wall news coverage about the submersible.
“Is there something behind the scenes that we’re not seeing?” she added, peddling another baseless conspiracy in a video that amassed more than 4.2 million views.