From podcasts and YouTube videos to long-form stories in print, true-crime stories captivate millions regularly. There is, however, a sinister underbelly to the genre. Influencers faking a woebegone fate, Internet detectives propagating conspiracy theories to cash in on purported kidnappings or abuse and social media platforms standing idly by as their algorithms spread fakes and rumors more and more. Today, OMR is taking a genuine inside look at the fake crime creator ecosystem.
Tiktok creator Bebe sits in front of a lilac wall, white bunny ears atop her head and speaks directly into the camera, repeatedly running her fingers through her platinum blonde hair. Coincidence or something more? Mere minutes before, a barrage of concerned, panic comments flew across the screen of the TikTok livestream: “If you’re in danger, run your fingers through your hair.” All the while Bebe continues to speak unperturbed into the camera, there is not a peep of any possible danger.
The speculation factory
The mother-daughter team Bebop and Bebe, whose real names cannot be confirmed, are among the most successful influencers on Tiktok. Almost five million people follow the US duo’s account and their videos, which frequently feature them singing and dancing, can rack up to 60 million views. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. Just another fleeting success story in the creator economy, as it were. But then there are the myriad of bizarre conspiracy theories surrounding the two Georgians.
There are thousands of videos and posts on YouTube, Instagram, Tiktok, Reddit and the like, where hordes of self-anointed armchair detectives disseminate their theories about Bebop and Bebe. Some say the two have fallen prey to human traffickers. Others are convinced that their mother’s brother kidnapped them. And others still believe that they are none other than Aranza Maria Ochoa Lopez and her mother Esmeralda Lopez-Lopez, with the latter abducting the former from a shopping mall in a high-profile case that took place in Washington state in 2018; the case remains unsolved.
The tradition of fake crime
Conspiracy theories running rampant is no coincidence. Bebop and Bebe are suspected of faking crimes in order to drum up awareness and generate reach—and outside of their room, they are not alone. In fact, there is tradition in fake crime. Back in 2016, British beauty influencer Marina Joyce was suspected of using makeup to insinuate bruises, as she whispered “save me” in a video and faked her own kidnapping. The hashtag #savemarinajoye trended worldwide on Twitter at the time, and Joyce received enormous media attention. Police were never able to locate any evidence of foul play.
On Tiktok, Russian influencers Mimikliff and Innkastar have published videos featuring the hand sign for domestic abuse that the Canadian Women’s Foundation to their 12 million followers. And Kate Yup, a Youtuber seemingly from France, conveyed the message “HELP ME” to her fans via less-than-subtle messaging in the graphics in her videos.
Keeping with the trend of planting breadcrumbs, Bepop and Bebe, too, have left numerous clues in their videos to fuel speculation. For starters, they also use the emergency hand sign for abuse and if a user comments “Wear orange and white when you’re in danger,” guess what color their outfit will be in the next video. The two social media stars also repeatedly make subtle overtures to their own kidnapping in their videos. One such example shows Bebop being handed a toothbrush, toothpaste and other utensils through a crack in the door—as if she were being held against her will and receiving the bare necessities.
900,000 followers in 90 days
The result is extreme engagement. Over and over millions scroll to the same second with the purported clues, sharing, liking, guessing and exchanging information about their finds and what they truly mean. That flurry of activity tells the algorithm the videos are popular and worthy of popping up into more and more feeds. According to analytics tool Infludata, Bebop and Bebe’s videos have been viewed 1.6 billion times so far since they were first posted a year ago. Each of the 24 most recent videos went viral, meaning they were viewed by an above-average number of viewers outside their own followings.
In the past 30 days alone, more than 900,000 people have begun following the account. Even the countless short videos by hobby detectives have generated over 30 million views within a very short time. Given the large number of videos, it has long been unclear which clues may have been deliberately planted by the influencer duo or subsequently manipulated by others, or if, in the end, they are more than just hysterical overinterpretations by concerned fans. Bebop and Bebe have also never publicly commented on the rumors, although it seems incredibly unlikely that they could not be aware of them—Unless they really are kidnapped, of course.
Internet detective contacts family
One person also profiting from such conspiracy theories is Youtuber Patrick K. Patrick told OMR that he is a part-time video producer for a public educational institution in Austria. Citing concerns about damaging his professional career, he declined to share his full name for this article. He runs the Youtube account Mythenakte with almost 500,000 subscribers. It’s a kind of Believe-it-or-not channel where he researches cases of seemingly mystical events, such as UFO sightings, alleged time travel in his videos—and, of course, the alleged abuse of influencers like Bebop and Bebe.
In Patrick’s mind, the two are Americans Kathryn Baldwin and her daughter Ava Baldwin, who have been missing since 2015 (a popular conspiracy theory that can be read about again and again in various Internet forums). In no less than four videos, he lays out the case, based on clues he collected on the Internet for three months. Clues that he later considers so clear that he not only turns to the police department responsible for the case in San Antonio, Texas, but even contacts the family of Ava, who has been missing since 2015.
Patrick does not provide the smoking gun, so-to-speak, for the case—nor does any other conspiracy theorist. In a Facebook post, the aunt of missing Ava does confirm a resemblance between Bebop and her abducted niece. However, even she does not believe that the famous Tiktok duo is her sister-in-law and her daughter; her niece’s age does not match the appearance of the young Tiktok star.
Can’t handle the truth
Nevertheless, searching for clues has been paying off for Patrick. The videos about Bebop and Bebe have a combined total of around 140,000 views. A similar video published two years earlier, in which he collected alleged evidence about Youtuber Kate Yup and the pleas for help hidden in her videos has so far netted around 420,000 views. According to his own figures, Patrick earns in the upper 4-figure range per month from advertising revenue on his Youtube account.
Patrick conducts most of his research from his office chair, alone. He starts with Google, rummages through forums, clicks himself down rabbit holes. Once he has collected enough details that raise questions, he lays out all the possible explanations in a seemingly objective video, weighing each possibility against the other. The facts he collects are cherry-picked and self-serving, however, and is not above suppressing important information, as he did in a video about an alleged UFO sighting during an interview conducted by German public broadcaster ARD.
In this video, for example, Patrick makes the case that ARD intends to cover up the seemingly mysterious incident, when, in fact, the blurry black spot in the sky was an insect on the camera lens. Patrick mentions this in passing in the four-minute video, but when asked why he did not subsequently include the uncut video that ARD released shortly afterwards, he said that it would not “help the video” and that he would have to upload it again. In that case, the more than 30,000 views that the video has achieved to date would be voided—and his advertising revenue would subsequently fall as well.
Should platforms be on the hook?
Hearing about Patrick and Bebop and Bebe raises the question of why platforms like Tiktok, Instagram and YouTube in particular fail in their responsibility to stop misinformation and conspiracy theories. In fact, the opposite is usually the case: algorithms additionally fuel content that is often viewed, clicked on and commented on. As in the case of Bebop and Bebe, they ensure that not only dubious content but also fake news and conspiracy theories spun around it spread rapidly and uncontrollably on the Internet.
If creators like Bebop and Bebe actually did stage their own kidnapping or abuse in a perfidious manner solely to generate clicks, that would be a criminal offense in most places. Beyond that, a moral question arises: Doesn’t a person who uses, say, the encircled thumb, the sign for domestic violence, just to generate clicks, contribute to the fact that real victims of domestic violence may soon no longer be taken seriously? As do the thousands of video creators who keep reproducing the brazen reach maneuvers in pursuit of views? And doesn’t Tiktok, the platform on which the symbol once became famous and has already helped save people, destroy its own work by distributing such videos?
Bebop and Bebe keep on keeping on
To what extent Bebop and Bebe, with their 4.8 million followers, see themselves as responsible for anything is unclear. A corresponding OMR inquiry to the Californian social media agency “Six Degrees of Influence,” with which the two are under contract, remains unanswered as of the time of this publication, as do the editorial inquiries to Youtube and Tiktok.
In the meantime, Bebop and Bebe have since uploaded more videos for Internet detectives to speculate over. In the latest, Bepop is wearing a black mask, Bebe in dark makeup tugging her hair. The video is tagged with the hashtag “#ifeellikesomebodyiswatchingme.” A hint of abuse? Maybe. Or maybe part of a shady marketing strategy. Regardless of which theory you subscribe to, the victim has long been clear: an underage girl from Georgia who has been thrust into the epicenter of the attention of fans and fanatics, where she now gawked at. She sings and dances along the way. And may soon hold the next hint of her abuse in the camera.