Videos attempting to shame women by sending their own comedy videos about sex or sexuality to their family members have gone massively viral on TikTok.
The videos, many of which have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, have been posted by multiple users but feature common language such as “cleaning the streets” and broom emojis.
They follow a similar pattern of screen recording women making sexual jokes on TikTok or other social media platforms and then finding who they believe is a member of the woman’s family, or a partner, and DMing them the video along with the words, “This your daughter?” or “This your girlfriend?”
Comment sections on the videos are often filled with support: “you are doing God’s work congrats” and “holy shit I’m glad you’ve done her. I can’t stand her.” In one video where the woman jokes that she would use a toothbrush holder as a sex toy, a user comments “I hope the glass breaks when she does it.”
Laila Tucker, a 17-year-old from East London had posted a video of her joking with friends that they were having a threesome. “A couple hours later I see that somebody had sent it to my dad,” she told VICE World News. I laughed as I know my dad will know it is a joke, but on the other hand it can put a woman at risk. Nobody knows what goes on behind the screen – some women could be in danger with their family.”
The Centre for Countering Digital Hate called the videos “disturbing.” TikTok removed some videos after being alerted by VICE World News but many others still remain online. One account that is still active has posted three videos with views of 2.3 million, 10.1 million and 1 million, all shaming women for sexual jokes and contacting their relatives. The account has over 67,000 followers, and seems to have been publishing content since the end of October.
Other related videos have performed extremely well on TikTok’s algorithm. One user, whose bio reads “🧹 street cleaner 🧹 “, published one video as part of the trend in mid-November that was seen around 625,000 times.
The #cleaningthestreets hashtag had 5.6 million views in total before TikTok removed a series of videos, though others remain. While not all the videos in the hashtag were about this specific trend, several of the most viewed were.
Lindsay Moran, head of communications for the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, said: “To be clear: there is absolutely no possible justifiable reason why TikTok should fail to immediately remove such disturbing videos – which do nothing but normalise the harassment and shaming of young women who use their platform.
“By way of comparison, just ask yourself how quickly they would pull down videos that breached the copyright of a powerful entertainment company. But TikTok and all the other social media platforms are engaged in a competition for users’ attention, which helps them to sell adverts.
“Removing videos – especially the most controversial and contentious videos – means less opportunity to sell adverts, which is exactly why social media is awash with hateful, damaging content like this.”
Another user, @cleaning._the._streets, made 11 videos in November and received over 30,000 likes for their content. Several of the videos had over 10,000 views, and one had 136,000. In the comments, the user wrote: “Blow this up ASAP cause I’m expecting this account to get banned anytime soon!!!”
It has now been banned – but its backup appears to remain.
Rebecca Hitchen, head of policy and campaigns at the End Violence Against Women Coalition said: “Online abuse has life shattering impacts on women’s lives. Our experiences and even just the threat of being abused in this way, means that many women and girls are already self-censoring, avoiding saying or doing certain things, and stopping use of certain platforms.
“This invisible safety work is exhausting and as a society we have to ask what damage will it do to the online world if half the population has restricted freedom and self expression? Social media companies do nowhere near enough to stop it, which is why we’re calling for online abuse against women and girls to be named and addressed in the government’s new Online Safety law.”
The UK government says its Online Safety Bill will introduce obligations on companies to keep their users safe, which will target “legal but harmful” material as well as content already deemed illegal.
Ella, who is from Queensland, Australia where a small number of these videos seem to be originating, saw a #cleaningthestreets TikTok that was made about her, in which the user attempted to make contact with her partner.
“I find the ‘finding the parents/partner’ trend very pointless and honestly harassment as it involves stalking and contacting people who aren’t involved,” Ella told VICE World News over Instagram, where she does not share her surname.
Another woman, who prefers to remain anonymous as she doesn’t want to draw any more attention to the videos, said that while she is used to hateful comments, she regrets taking part in the original trend in which users give the number of people they have had sex with which caught the #cleaningthestreets users’ attention as it “took it to the next level.”
A TikTok spokesperson said: "TikTok is deeply committed to fostering a welcoming and safe place for people to share their creativity. Our Community Guidelines make clear that we do not tolerate content that contains bullying or harassment, statements targeting an individual, or hateful speech or behaviour. We have removed the content that violates those guidelines."
TikTok said that it removes all expressions of abuse, “including threats or degrading statements intended to mock, humiliate, embarrass, intimidate, or hurt an individual.
“This includes content that disparages another person's sexual activity, or that reveals, or threatens to reveal a person's private sexual life, including threats to publicise digital content, sexual history, and names of previous sexual partners.”