The TikTok search for the Titanic sub

Gray posted his videos in installments, teasing viewers with dramatic music and cliffhangers, asking them to comment — another good engagement hack — if they wanted another installment. He said he eventually stopped encouraging his followers to do this because it began to feel too much like clickbait. Like many of the creators I talked to, Gray used the word reporting to describe his work.

“I try my best to fact check as much as humanly possible,” he said.

More and more people, especially young folks, are turning to TikTok as a search engine and source for news. If they want to know what’s up with the sub, they don’t ask Google or go to The New York Times. They ask TikTok and it shows them a video, possibly from Ahren Gray.

Justin Shepherd, 41, a salesperson and content creator in Nashville, has gained more than 75,000 followers since he started posting about the Titan. He’s posted more than 20 TikTok videos and hosted three live streams delving into the minutiae of sonar detection and the Coast Guard’s rescue efforts.

When he started his TikTok account in 2020, he mostly posted about his family. But the account gained traction when he started posting about Gabby Petito’s death in 2021. He’s been leaning into videos summarizing investigations into grisly events ever since, with playlists on his TikTok page entitled “Natalee Holloway,” “Mass Shootings” and “Murdaugh Murders.” Much of the coverage of the Titan sub feels like it has been true crimeified, right down to the creepy piano song creators often use while retelling the stories of violent murders. (IYKYK!)

“A lot of people try to say, you’re an internet sleuth,” Shepherd said. “I’m not a sleuth at all. I take news, I read through all of it, find out what’s true, find out what’s interesting, and I summarize it in a way that’s quick and easy for people to understand.”

He said he checks each piece of information he shares against two news sources before posting (His Titan videos have included screenshots of articles from Rolling Stone, TMZ and CNN.) He tries not to post out-there theories, even though he knows that they might garner him more views.