Social media is often the subject of a lot of criticism. In recent months especially, there has been a spotlight on social media and the role that it plays in society as lawmakers are finally starting to crack down and put policies in place that aim to give users of social media more protections relating to their personal privacy. However, as much as social media is subject to critical opinion, it also presents benefits that, in a lot of cases, outweigh its negative aspects. In one specific case, the latter has never been more true. The BBC reported that TikTok helped to rescue a missing girl.
It wasn’t TikTok the platform per se that helped to rescue a 16-year old teenager who went missing in North Carolina, but rather a call sign that was created and made to be known by the larger community of TikTok users. The hand signal was developed to silently alert another user if the person on the other end was experiencing any kind of domestic abuse and needed help. The young girl who went missing used this hand gesture to signify to another person that she was in trouble.
According to the BBC, the missing girl was spotted in a car on a highway in Kentucky with a man, later identified as 61-year-old James Herbert Brick of Cherokee, North Carolina. While the man was driving the girl looked out the window and got the attention of a nearby driver while she was exercising the hand signal that she learned on TikTok. The observant driver immediately alerted the local authorities. The Laurel County sheriff’s office said in a statement that in his call the driver reported “a female passenger in the vehicle making hand gestures that are known on the social media platform TikTok to represent violence at home.”
The TikTok hand gesture that very likely saved the teenager’s life is done by first raising your hand up to your chest, palm open, then folding the thumb inward across your hand, and then closing your fingers down over your thumb. This distress signal first gained traction on TikTok during the pandemic so that those enduring domestic violence during lockdown would have a way to covertly communicate their abuse and need for help. The hashtag #signalforhelp is what helped to spread its meaning.
Even though Social media clearly has its pitfalls, instances such as how this young girl was saved really serve to highlight the value that social media has. If these events had occurred even 10 years prior it is very likely that this story would not have had a happy ending or that it would have taken authorities much longer to track her down and rescue her. For instance, Elizabeth Smart was missing for nearly a year before a good samaritan recognized her and alerted authorities, had social media had more of a presence back then (had a similar TikTok hand signal been in the public vernacular) Smart may have been rescued much sooner. Despite all of its faults, instances such as this really serve as a reminder of social media’s potential for good.