The power of the TikTok algorithm reigns supreme once again when it comes to viral content on the app. A video posted on Wednesday by a user called @jimiono (who was later identified as Melissa Lingafelt) accused Drake Bell of domestic abuse. The video, which quickly went viral and has since earned over 2 million likes on the platform, made its way onto Twitter by Wednesday evening where Bell’s name sat on the trending topics list for hours.
The video circulates through several photos of Lingafelt, who appears in the first few seconds, alongside Drake Bell to prove that the two had a personal relationship. Lingafelt then explains that she began dating Bell when she was 16 years old when she moved in with him. “It wasn’t about a year until the verbal abuse started,” Lingafelt says as photos of the couple rotate on the screen. “It then turned into physical—hitting, throwing, everything,” says Lingafelt. “At the pinnacle of it he drug me down the stairs of our house in Los Feliz. My face hit every step on the way down.” The video ends with a comment about underage girls but does not go into detail.
A click on Lingafelt’s profile shows that there are more videos with screenshots of text messages and other allegations from other alleged survivors. Over on Twitter, the video has been downloaded and re-shared dozens of times. The vitality of the video sparked several other allegations to come forward, and within 24 hours thousands of Tweets discussing Bell’s alleged abuse had taken over Twitter as well.
Bell quickly denied the allegations. A representative for the former Nickelodeon star told Variety that Bell claims he never abused Lingafelt. The statement also claims that Bell financially contributed to Lingafelt’s life as recent as last year, but claims they broke off their relationship a decade ago.
It’s no secret that it’s far easier to get content to go viral on TikTok than it is on any other platform. Twitter and Instagram rely heavily on a strong network of followers in order to boost and share new content, meaning that accounts with little to no followers have a hard time getting attention. Twitter also recently changed its feed algorithm to show content that people like in addition to what they post and retweet, lowering the incentive for users to retweet content like they would have before that feature was created.
On the surface, the need for viral content can be chalked up to influencer marketing and funny videos and memes, but apps like TikTok have proven that viral content is part of what makes social media apps feel more genuine. Creators are able to leverage the app to express themselves and create niche content that contributes to a community. For many LGBTQ+ creators, this sense of community might be a vital escape from an unsupportive home life or real-world living situation. A January 2020 piece from the Washintgon Post discusses TikTok’s platform as a means of community for young LGBTQ+ people.
For rape and abuse survivors, TikTok makes it easier for creators to connect with one another for support. The platform effectively gives a voice to those that would otherwise not have a place to raise their concerns in an amplified way. While Twitter might be the next closest thing to TikTok when it comes to spreading a message, TikTok’s focus on content and view time over follower count makes it much easier for everyday people to find community in the app. It also challenges other social media companies to update their platforms to reflect consumer use.
A ban on TikTok would effectively silence millions of creators—even if it means they lose a sense of community, not necessarily that they use the app to expose their alleged abusers. The hashtag #survivor, which contains hundreds of videos that have been viewed a collective 2.3 billion times on the app, enables sexual abuse survivors to share their stories and find support among other users.
Since teens often gravitate toward social networks that don’t demand a lot from them professionally (or that their parents are not on), TikTok’s massive popularity as a communication tool for generation z and millennial audiences means that this sense of safety could be gone if the app were to be taken down next month as planned.