On TikTok, Suddenly Everyone’s a Titanic Expert

OceanGate Expeditions/YouTube | Remixed by Caterina Cox

On June 18, a submersible carrying five people on a tourist mission to visit the wreckage of the Titanic—yes, the same Titanic that famously sank to the bottom of the ocean 111 years ago—lost contact with its surface ship an hour and 45 minutes into the journey. Known as the Titan, the craft held four passengers who each paid $250,000 for the experience as well as the CEO of OceanGate, the company operating the submersible. Despite a few promising developments, the vessel has yet to be discovered, and things aren’t looking good. If the bizarre, horrifying situation has left you needing an endless amount of content on the topic, you’re in luck: TikTok is suddenly full of Titanic experts.  

Over the last few days, the platform has become a goldmine of Titanic and Titan content. It’s unsurprising that it’s unfolded that way; Users tend to latch onto zeitgeist-level current events, whether it’s Scandoval, the Free Britney movement, or anything Trump-related. As far as the missing sub is concerned, some creators are genuinely helpful, offering their expertise from their professional or personal experience or simply sharing the latest information. 

Titan-related TikToks fall into a few distinct categories: 
The first are “explainers,” videos where a creator regurgitates updates on the Titan’s whereabouts in three minutes or less, giving an abridged version of what they’ve seen in press conferences or news articles. These videos tend to be harmless, and if anything, helpful for someone who doesn’t necessarily want to read the New York Times’ live updates on the situation. They tend to educate and inform rather than adding any personal opinions of their own. For creators who often share information and developments about pop culture and current events regularly, this type of content falls within their regular remit. Others have identified an opportunity in an unfathomable situation that has gripped the whole world.

@justinontikt0k 6/21/23 – alleged knocking of Tutan sub #Titanic #Titan #sub #Knocking #Rescue #Search #vessell #Hope ♬ original sound – JustinOnTikTok

The second camp is a group of experts who have been able to speak to the crisis based on their personal experiences, whether that’s because they actually worked on submarines or are creating content specifically on behalf of those who are. Some of this group, like McKensea, were already established as creators, which gives them a little more legitimacy because she already had a following. This group tends to offer more speculation through the lens of their own knowledge and expertise, and although we haven’t seen their degrees or qualifications, they have enough grounding and speak with enough authority to be helpful to Titan-watchers. 

@mckensea Every new thing I learn about that Titan has my jaw on the floor 🫣 their ballast system?? the items from a camping store?? The lack of efficient underwater communication?? #titansubmarine #submariner #womeninstem ♬ original sound – Mckenzie Margarethe

The third group is one you should probably see coming from a mile away. They rear their head in times of crisis and cause chaos and confusion. That’s right: we’re talking about the conspiracists. These creators tend to have little to no connection to the events surrounding the submersible, and instead seek enjoyment out of unpacking what’s happening in real-time in the most out-of-pocket way possible. It’s not worth signal-boosting these creators, who either delight in spreading disinformation, are willfully misreading a situation, or are up to something more nefarious and nonsensical. Their speculation goes something like this: Does the sub have some sort of connection to Epstein? What was the British billionaire REALLY doing underwater? They’re not just making videos, either. They’re also leaving nonsensical comments (“Dr. Greer came out a week ago to expose the top government illegal secrets. All of a sudden people have gone missing in the Titanic.”)

Scroll past this stuff at all costs. 

There is, of course, miscellaneous content that’s cropped up around the Titan situation. You can find old interviews with Titanic survivors being shared, as well as clips from James Cameron’s Titanic documentaries. Call that content garden variety historical content. 

These categories of content creation are not unique to Titan. You’ll certainly see them again the next time a story takes over your FYP. Some of these creators are making honest-to-god fascinating videos and sharing interesting information. Others are opportunists who see this situation (and will see future situations) as a vehicle for virality. And no matter your view on a group of mega-rich people dropping boatloads of money to do something no civilian should do, this is a serious situation. 

So what’s the lesson for creators and would-be undersea explorers? It’s OK to sit back, relax, and leave the deep sea stuff to the experts.

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