Titanic Truthers of Tiktok

Titanic Truthers of Tiktok

The finer details of what happened to the RMS Titanic depend on who is telling the story.

Iceberg seen hitting luxury liner 11:40 p.m.according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, or 11:35 pm, claims an exhibition about the ship in New York. Royal Museums Greenwich in Britain says the cost of the wrecked ship 1,503 people his life, while in the United States, the Smithsonian claims that 1,522 passengers and crew dead.

Historians have attributed the variance to factors such as broadcast head counts using incomplete ticketing lists and weak signals. However, broad strokes are not in question. All credible experts agree that on April 15, 1912, less than a week into her maiden voyage, the Titanic ended up at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean.

More than a century later, a different version is circulating on TikTok. In a post that was viewed more than 11 million times before being deleted earlier this year, a user wrote: “Titanic never sank!!!”

On the short-form video app, long-established facts about the crash are being litigated anew as rampant rumors merge with fresh misinformation and manipulated content – ​​even the most Demonstrating TikTok’s powerful ability to sow historical revisionism even about deeply studied matters.

A 32-second post opens with a dramatic black-and-white photograph of the Titanic, its stern looming above waves studded with people, set to a spooky synthesizer tune. A man in a hoodie and backwards baseball cap, green-screened ominously in the frame, makes a familiar argument (with a screaming face emoji): “Titanic never really sank.” Looking into the camera, he repeats the so-called and widely discredited “swap” theory—that the seaside ruins belong to Titanic’s older and dilapidated sister ship, the Olympic, which was wrecked in an attempted insurance fraud.

Another video presents a conspiracy theory that the wreck was a “hit job” ordered by financier JP Morgan – whose real name was John Pierpont Sr. – to eliminate opponents of the Federal Reserve.

Doubts about the Titanic have troubled scholars since the ship’s sinking. Then, in December, came the 25th anniversary of the 1997 film “Titanic,” the costly and heart-wrenching epic that laid a wistful romance over a fictionalized depiction of the disaster.

The festivities included a re-show of the film in theaters just before Valentine’s Day. There was also a flurry of news of director James Cameron working with scientists and stunt people to resolve a persistent debate about a key scene in the film, which centered on how many star-crossed lovers could survive on a floating door in cold ocean water. (Tests showed that two could, in fact, be managed.)

Mr Cameron’s experiments seemed to add fuel to a slew of TikTok conspiracy theories about the real Titanic – many of them cobbled together from a grab bag of conjecture and inaccurate evidence and posted in installments online .

Charles A. Haas, a founder of the Titanic International Society, said, “It’s kind of defiant to see so much junk floating out like this.” He co-authored five books on the subject, twice dived to the site of the wreck and debunked more conspiracy theories than he can count. “I feel like one of the very few voices crying out against the sound of the storm.”

The Titanic International Society, one of several historical organizations around the world dedicated to Titanic studies, has Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts but no presence on TikTok. Mr Haas attributed the decision partly to fears that TikTok’s reputation as “a kind of wild and woolly place” would tarnish any serious research shared on the platform.

“If you have a wonderful piece of filet mignon and you wrap it in stinky fish, after a while the filet mignon doesn’t smell so good,” he said.

TikTok is the latest recycling bin for false narratives about the Titanic, which began circulating almost as soon as the ship sank.

A month after the wreck, The Washington Post raised the possibility that the tragedy stemmed from the “ancient malice” of a mummified Egyptian priest who cursed an editor after daring to tell his story to fellow Titanic passengers. Others have tried to unconvincingly pin Winston Churchill, a German submarine, sabotage by Catholic shipbuilders, or the high death toll on decks that could be sealed electromagnetically to prevent passengers from escaping. The Freemasons were accused of orchestrating a cover-up.

Such conspiracy theories are a source of deep and familiar excitement for Mr. Haas, who is fueled by years of weary disbelief that tall tales about a largely documented disaster are being told through books, so-called documentaries and now, a video app. Can find audience through medium.

“The sad thing is, a lot of the people who follow these kinds of things are teenagers, and they’re reluctant to dig,” he said.

TikTok, which boasts 150 million US users and is especially popular among youth, has become a particularly potent vector for misinformation in the past and present. A period of violent dictatorship in the Philippines decades ago was recently reintroduced on TikTok as a golden time of economic growth. A pawnshop owner on the app claimed last year to have an album of unseen images of the 1937 Rape of Nanjing, but later said the disturbing photos, which have been viewed nearly 52 million times, were actually “reproductions” from Shanghai. Mementos”.

Like other social media platforms, TikTok has tried to suppress some harmful historical falsehoods, such as attempts to demonize social media. deny the HolocaustWhile working to counter more modern lies about elections, health hacks and other topics. (The company, which is owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance, is also fighting for its future in the United States amid national security concerns.)

“Our priority is to protect our community, which is why we remove misinformation that causes significant harm and work with independent fact checkers to verify the accuracy of content on our platform,” said Ben Rathe, a spokesman for TikTok. can be assessed.” According to its guidelines, the company blocks certain videos from showing in feeds with conspiracy theories, such as that “secret or powerful groups” carried out the events. But the app does not block these videos completely.

While many younger users on TikTok can identify with and scoff at conspiracy theories, the generation also struggles to understand the past. US history proficiency has declined among eighth graders every year since 2014 a federal gauge, another poll Asked last year whether NASA astronauts had landed on the moon – nearly half of participants born after 1997 said they had not or that they were unsure.

In a recent survey of young Americans who use TikTok for more than an hour a day, 17 percent “cannot say with certainty that the Earth is round,” according to the Reboot Foundation, a Paris-based non-profit. Not-for-profit organization that promotes media literacy and critical thinking. Idea.

“Basically, a 14-year-old is probably taught in school that the Earth is round and probably believes it, but with the frequency of watching the video over and over again, they start to question it,” Helen Lee Bouygues, who started the reboot, called on the Foundation to help fight misinformation. She said the group observed that “the longer young adults were on TikTok, the more they tend to believe what they see.”

Disinformation experts say TikTok’s algorithm and the personalized feed it creates for users may make it particularly potent for spreading conspiracy theories. To show users content, the system relies less on social connections and followers like Twitter and Facebook and more on engagement, said Megan Brown, a senior research engineer at New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics.

“If someone is spending time on the video, it doesn’t matter if they really believe that JP Morgan sank the Titanic, or if they believe, Hey, this is a funny video, no JP Morgan is talking about the sinking of the Titanic,” Ms Brown said. “It’s the same signal as far as TikTok is concerned, so they recommend more of that content.”

Mr. Morgan, whose White Star Line owned the Titanic, figures prominently in Titanic lore. The TikTok videos repeat decades-old claims that the millionaire boarded the Titanic minutes or hours before a planned voyage because he intended to use the ship to assassinate powerful enemies who sought to create a centralized banking system. opposed his efforts. (In some tellings, TikTok’s creators have reintroduced the villains as the wealthy Rothschild family or the Catholic order of Jesuits.)

Experts point out that the historical record and common sense do not support such claims. Evidence suggests that Mr. Morgan failed to make his date with the Titanic because he was dealing with an unforeseen situation involving his European art collection. The businessman would also have to be sure that the Titanic would hit an iceberg with devastating force, and that her adversaries were not among the more than 700 people who survived the accident.

Of course, history is not set in stone—especially when record-keeping was less technologically advanced—and experts often disagree. Parks Stephenson, a Navy veteran who has visited the wreck several times and advised Mr Cameron on a 2003 documentary about the ship, conflicts with many fellow Titanic scholars in his belief that icebergs destroyed the ship. Damaged her bottom instead of the sides.

However, the consensus is this: Titanic sank in a terrible accident and many people died. Recognizing the ship’s true fate allows the tragedy to become a valuable tool, Mr Stephenson said: a way to understand communications failures, improve safety regulations, oceanography, underwater forensics and arrogance in times of crisis and Valor.

“On a grand scale, the study of history keeps you from repeating the mistakes you made in the past and constantly moving forward,” said Mr. Stephenson, executive director of the USS Kidd Veterans Museum.

Titanic conspiracy theories can seem relatively harmless, especially in a modern environment where online lies have caused real-world damage, such as an attack on the Capitol or a gunman at a pizzeria. Untrue rumors about a 111-year-old shipwreck have struck a chord with social media companies, which are already struggling to address contemporary falsehoods with content moderators.

Ms Brown said the concern was a long-term erosion of the truth and the idea that “people who believe in at least one conspiracy theory tend to believe in at least one more.”

Entraping someone with one false story makes it easier to entrap them with another, he said: “Hey, if you heard this about the Titanic, you wouldn’t believe this second cover-up.”

In the absence of TikTok’s intervention, some users have taken matters into their own hands.

Rafael Avila, 33, a technical consultant at IBM, is known in his spare time as “Titanic Guy” on TikTok, where he has amassed more than 600,000 followers since 2020 and frequently posts conspiracy theories about the shipwreck. Posts videos debunking theories.

“These theories have always been there within the Titanic community, but they have been fringe,” said Mr. Avila, who lives in Toronto and obsessed With Titanic since childhood. TikTok changed that, he said. “When the first few videos were made about Olymp Theory, Federal Reserve Theory, the algorithm picked up on that, seeing that people were engaging with it, and then it started to explode.”

While Mr Avila joined the app to share his passion for the Titanic story, he has increasingly added debunking videos to his repertoire using TikTok’s easy-to-use editing tools – such as “stitches” or “duets”. Ability to fact-check bogus views to promote videos. Now, whenever a Titanic conspiracy theory video goes viral, his followers often tag him so he can roll up his sleeves and film the facts. He said that TikTok videos containing the truth don’t get as many views as conspiracy theories, but they can still attract millions of people.

“My community of Titanic nerds looks up to me to set the record straight, so I’ve taken it upon myself as a responsibility,” he said. “It’s the Internet, people can say whatever they want.”

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