Glorification and support for the teenage murderer – How TikTok content presented the massacre in Serbia?

We saw comments demanding the release of the detained teenager as part of the most popular comments on other videos, expressing their “love” for him as a “hero” and a “legend”


Author: Goshe Nikolov

“Only a genius can kill 9 young persons; he is a genius”.

This is a statement from the social network TikTok, written above the photographs of 13-year old K.K. from Serbia, accused for murdering a total of 9 persons – eight students and a school security guard. The video has almost 620.000 views and over 90.000 likes.

The user-account posting the video is signed with the name of the teenager who carried out the massacre in the school in Belgrade with the following address @simp4kosta. The profile photo is also a photo of the boy who shot his peers.

The other video posted from the same user-account has 1,3 million views at the moment. It presents a piece of paper with names written on it, which according to the Serbia authorities, was a list of names that K.K. wanted to execute. On the photograph, in English language, the following is written “mission: k$ll them”, after which a photograph from the dentention of the teenager appears, followed by a gamer’s message “Mission passed! respect+”, with uplifting music in the background.

These videos are just two of the dozens that Meta.mk and Portalb.mk watched on the social network TikTok, when entering the key words related to the tragedy that happened in Serbia. But, without even searching, and with the sheer starting of the application, the first videos on the home-page will most probably be contents related to this event.

Among the videos introduced by TikTok as “most popular” with a key-word search, is the video of a Serbian girl who during live-streaming on this social network says:

„K****, brother, we are waiting for you, we love you and hold on. You will come out one day, but those who are two metres under will never be able to come out. He will come out whenever, but they will never leave their coffins”.

While uttering this bizarre message, her live stream was followed by thousands of TikTok users. The user-account is no longer accessible, while the Serbian media, after the broadcast, published the following day that the girl was summoned for an interview by the Police.

Nevertheless, live-stream videos can still be found and are re-published on several profiles.

Other “most popular” contents that we saw was a blurry footage of a running camera-man with a statement that the footage was recorded at the moment of shooting in the school, while shots from firearms can be heard in the background.

We noticed dozens of other videos that reached up to millions of views and had hundreds of thousands likes and thousands of comments. We also saw numerous user-accounts opened with the name and surname of the teenager who carried out the attack and with his photographs.

Comments with hate-speech and glorification of the murderer
Another disputable moment noticed is the comment section where, also, negative comments dominate representing hate-speech or glorfying the murderer.
Hence, on one of the teenage murderer videos with over one million views, the first comments state: “He is king”, “We should bow him”, “Sheshh that’s my boy)”.
As most popular comments on other videos we also saw how some demand the release of the detained teenager, expressing “love” for him and describe him as a “hero” and a “legend”.

Some of the comments on the videos on TikTok related to the tragedy in Serbia / photo: printscreen

The videos with this kind of contents and comments are numerous and they are shared in multiple languages – the ones we saw were in English, Macedonian, Albanian and Serbian.

Although TikTok policy provides for removal or, at the least, warning notice on distressing contents, such an action was never performed, while the videos have been available for days collecting even more views.

We also saw videos promoting the fight against school bullying, but most of them included photographs of the murderer, the victims and their peers – many of them even fake.

“Children look up to inappropriate models because we, as adults, opened up this road for them”
Giving statements for the media, sociologist Drita Memeti says that the fact that all sorts of different comments were shared the moment the news about the tragedy started spreading only talks about the phase we have evidently reached as a society.

“Social networks are platforms that enable everyone to express his/her opinion, regardless of whether that opinion is right or wrong. Exactly these comments make crime relative and provide concessions for the criminals turning him/her into heroes”, said Memeti.

According to her, these comments are usually made by people who are angry and the only space they have to express their opinion are the social networks and that is where they spill out all their negative energy and thoughts accumulated in their lives.

“This phenomenon should be treated with extreme care and regulated by a specific law by state institutions, because glorifying a criminal can only produce other criminals. For every newly created situation, there are laws and order and experts trained to handle the case properly, while the rest can only extend their condolences for the victims, convey sympathy for the families and pray for such events never to happen again”, stressed Memeti.

The sociologist deems that social platforms, including TikTok, were created for good deeds. However, as she puts it, accessive use of TikTok can backfire in society, thereby appreciating anti-values, curses, insults, advertising criminal offenses, promoting deviant behaviour etc.
“From that viewpoint – as a sociologist – I think, the use of this platform should be censured as a matter of social urgency”, says Memeti.

In the same token, pshychologist Edlira Destani says about this case that crime cannot be described differently than crime. She adds that banalizing comments and messages on various social networks only encourage crime, spreading statements that emphasize constant increase of peer-bullying and degradation of school systems and traditional values.

“This entire chaos, mainly media and public, especially created among young people induces the need to hide personal fear for the children, but also the fear for one self. In addition, these comments conceal general and personal insecurities. The attacks inflicted by the comments about them are somewhat of a relief, because subconsciously they are throwing the “ball” into the court of the perpetrator”, explains Destani.

Photo: Meta.mk

The psychologist we talked to explained that in many cases, calling someone a “hero” is the beginning and end in itself, without analyzing the reason why this attribute is assigned. She deems this a mistake since not everyone can take up the role of a judge.

“The ramifications brought about from an event like this are hardly discussed”, says the psychologist and according to her the freedom for each person to judge for him/herself about the event does not bring about anything constructive.

“The age of puberty and adolecence is very delicate and children feel the need to create a model to develop their own situations. TikTok is just one instrument for accomplishing that goal. Children see inappropriate models since we, as adults, opened that path for them from a very early age”, says Destani.

TikTok should prove that it is a secure platform
Exactly the events in Serbia encourage the debate for regulating social networks in North Macedonia, and TikTok was put in the centre of attention.

The expert for communication and social networks, Bojan Kordalov, believes that TikTok has to demonstrate now that it is a credible platform, in terms of security, and from a geopolitical aspect, but also for the security of children and young people.

“On a global level, TikTok has been subject of conversation for many years, especially in the USA, but also in European countries – regarding the consequences and the need for TikTok to prove its security in general, from a geopolitical aspect, but also in terms of security for children and young people. Therefore, TikTok needs to demonstrate and prove seriously that it really cares – through its algorithms – to change the circumstances and eliminate negative occurrences or things that are unacceptable by any law in any country”, says Kordalov.

There is no justification for the social network not responding to these videos.

“There is no justification for glorifying murder, for glorifying massacres, for glorifying whatever that is illegal and prohibited for the growth and development of the target groups there”, added Kordalov.

The communication expert says that other popular platforms went through similar debates within the global framework.

“Something similar was happening less than a decade ago with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google. That was related to fake news at the time, but also pertaining to child protection. Many public hearings in the US Congress, and even in European institutions were organized for these technological giants that had to adjust and change many of their algorithms. We would like to see such a thing happen now for the purpose of better user experience, greater protection of children and young people, but also for improved personal data protection for everyone”, stated Kordalov, according to whom all stakeholders need to network in order to decrease the negative affects of social networks and boost positive initiatives.

“We simply must network, work together, ask children, young people, parents, teachers – what can be done with joint efforts to prevent such things, and most importantly, let’s put forward the positive examples of social media for children and young people which are numerous. That should be done especially by the instititions that should also decrease their daily political bickering. At least every second press-conference or every second event of the institutions should involve young people in order to express a positive example of some business idea, or successful performance in a competition, rewards won, some innovation of a school, some socially responsible entities, or assisting some eco-activism”, clearly states Kordalov.

For the time being, there is no uniformed position on the part of the authorities regarding the regulation of social networks and possible prohibition of TikTok platform.

Meta.mk and Portalb.mk asked TikTok why disturbing contents prevail on the platform glorifying the murderer and why such contents was not removed. We also asked the company’s opinion about the proposed action to prohibit the application in North Macedonia. Up to date, no answer was received from TikTok.

Let’s not forget that on 3rd May, a primary school student in Belgrade – with firearms – killed eight students and the school security guard. Two days after that – on 5th May – a 21-year old man from Mladenovac near Belgrade killed eight persons and wounded 14 others in another attack with firearms.

A few weeks ago, North Macedonia was faced with a big TikTok scandal regarding a anesthesilogist who published footage from women in the Gynecology Ward in the hospital in Tetovo. He is in custody now. A young girl died from an electric shock trying to photograph herself on a loose wagon touching the electrical grid. A few months ago the public was alarmed from the TikTok challenge that made young people lie down on the streets waiting for the first vehicle to approach them after which they left the scene.

Authors: Goshe Nikolov and Fisnik Xhelili

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