Watch out: TikTok could expose you as a cheater

A slew of infidelity scandals online have seen users playing amateur detective – here’s why this can easily go wrong

Comments from TikTok posts about cheaters online
Comments from TikTok posts about cheaters online

A slew of infidelity scandals online have seen users playing amateur detective – here’s why this can easily go wrong

By Darshita Goyal25 Mar 2024
4 mins read time
4 mins read time

Cuffing season is on the way out, and cheating spring is upon us. We’re not making this up: Instagram’s fave queer couple Sufi Sun and Anjali Chakra have called off their wedding, citing infidelity, while people in New York are looking to upturn a bill from 1907 to make adultery legal in the city. Then there’s the relentless furore directed at Ariana Grande for allegedly cheating and her pointed (musical) response that then broke the album charts. Even British Vogue is trying to understand why people cheat. Infidelity, it seems, is everywhere.

Of course when there’s whispers of a movement, TikTok is rarely far behind; in the last couple weeks, two massive cheating scandals have taken over the FYP. On March 10, lifestyle content creator Tiana Wiltshire kicked off a manhunt when she claimed someone whose name rhymes with “Cat Saddams” cheated on his fiancé at his bachelor party in Las Vegas. The video has over 25 million views and countless stitches where other TikTokers attempt to unmask the Vegas cheater, quickly piecing together that his name could be Matt Adams.

Some began “Operation Save The Bride” while another creator broke down how they’d find the cheater. She instructed users to look for US-based wedding websites that would lead them to the fiancée, who the TikTok army could contact and warn about her cheating husband-to-be. If that plan sounds questionable, you’re right. It was a disaster. The following day, Wiltshire requested that people stop spamming women like Sara Jones and Shaylee Stovall with fiancés named Matt Adams but who did not, apparently, cheat on their partners.

According to Wiltshire’s screenshot, Jones was forced to disable her wedding website on as TikTok sleuths were messing up her RSVPs and leaving negative comments. The response to Wiltshire's video was also split: some mocked her for potentially “destroying someone’s life” and joked about “what happens in Vegas, doesn’t actually stay in Vegas” while others crowned her a “girl’s girl”.

But… did this woman actually need saving? These online investigators typically assume a moral high ground when they expose infidels, truly believing that they are helping someone by unearthing the truth behind their relationship. But sometimes, their desire to divulge secrets is so all-consuming that they forget how this could impact the life and feelings of the people they’re hoping to avenge. “There is, of course, a desire for social justice happening on one level here. But very often, there’s collateral damage along the way,” says Dr. Gemma Cobb, a digital culture lecturer from University of Sussex says. “Doxxing – the sharing of someone’s personal information online – has many potential ramifications.” As we saw with Jones’ wedding registry, it did have ramifications and this is only the beginning of TikTok playing amateur detective.

There is, of course, a desire for social justice happening on one level here. But very often, there’s collateral damage along the way.
Dr. Gemma Cobb

Days later, on March 14, Samantha Marks, an unrelated TikTok creator posted a video about yet another man who had allegedly been caught cheating. Marks was sat next to this person on a flight, and noticed him creating a Hinge profile under the name Bryan, after wrapping up a call with who appeared to be his wife and child. The popularity of this video had the search term ‘Bryan with a Y’ trending on the app, as people tried to bring another wronged woman to justice.

After eight videos and millions of views, when Marks finally found Bryan’s wife, she was low-key disparaging and high-key disappointed with how simple the situation was. Turns out, the wife already knew about Bryan’s Hinge endeavours and… doesn’t really care. All Marks’ exposé did was bring thousands of strangers’ opinions into a healthy relationship. The creator ended her video by saying she hopes the wife and other women realise that they “deserve better than Bryan with a Y”. Such claims are rooted in the outlook that monogamy is the correct option in life; it’s impossible for some people to imagine that the couple could be happily polyamorous or in an open relationship.

With little to no knowledge of the pair’s reality, they take it upon themselves to deliver internet-backed justice. This not only invades the couple’s privacy but further stigmatises alternative, non-monogamous relationships. In an attempt to back her story, Marks also shared photos of Bryan’s hand featuring his wedding ring and of his backpack. Both pictures were clearly taken without consent and shared online with heaps of strangers, possibly leading to people stopping men with similar bags on the street and accusing them of infidelity. We all know the internet can be extreme, and the last thing anyone needs is a stalker-level social justice chase.

While the current trend of TikTok surveillance videos seems to be cheating partners, exposés aren’t new to the platform. In 2023, creator Kelly Yancy posted a video asking people to help her find someone called Sarah. She had overheard Sarah’s best friends slut shame her in a conversation and wanted to reveal the truth. After gaining a lot of traction, the creator quickly deleted the viral video when the Sarah in question said all the attention was impacting her job, and she was uncomfortable with the hate that her friends were receiving.

Although social media feels like a public directory that could help you find anyone, and it might be fun to feel like you’re helping solve a mystery, airing people’s personal grievances (without their knowledge) to unlimited strangers can easily be more harmful than helpful. As one popular comment on the video said, “Imagine you’re just lalala scrolling on your fyp at lunch [and] then boom, your social support system is a lie and 100,000 people found out first.” The blowback is humiliating for the people involved – both the supposed perpetrator and victim – and has the potential to make people feel unsafe in public spaces.

“Internet sleuthing is not a new phenomenon… there has long been a drive to expose celebrities for being inauthentic. Given that social media means anyone is potentially a celebrity, it makes sense that we are seeing people trying to expose the everyday person who is not as they seem,” Dr. Cobb explains. “Traditional media has always dealt in gossip to sell copies and attract clicks. In this era of participatory social media, we as individuals are creators of media as much as we are consumers. So it is to be expected that creators will seek to capitalise on their success.”

At what cost, though? Off the back of the success from the Bryan with a Y debacle, Marks has launched a series called Hot Goss on her TikTok, where she’ll reveal and discuss scandalous secrets that her followers submit anonymously. While the namelessness in this format makes it potentially less hurtful to the people involved – and has been common on podcasts such as Normal Gossip and Everybody Has A Secret – the source of Marks’ new-found success and community makes this series feel, well, a bit icky.

How long before another creator unleashes an army of sleuths on an unassuming stranger? Cheater or not, everyone deserves their right to privacy. After all, people just want to have dinner at their favourite restaurant without being prosecuted online. Put your phone down, and let the paparazzi be the paparazzi.