TikTok Promoted Macabre Suggestions After Missing Woman’s Body Found

Within hours of Nicola Bulley’s body being found, TikTok was suggesting users seek out ghoulish imagery.
PHOTO: Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

TikTok has been recommending that users search for macabre information around the recovery of the body of Nicola Bulley, a 45-year-old British woman who had been missing for three weeks.

The platform has faced criticism as true crime enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists bombarded it with videos about Bulley’s disappearance, with several visiting the site she was last seen in St Michael's on Wyre, Lancashire, in northwest England. 


Police confirmed on Monday evening that the body recovered on Sunday in the River Wyre was that of Nicola Bulley. 

Yet despite TikTok’s claims that it was taking action against any violations of its community guidelines and limiting the reach of some content, VICE World News found several ghoulish search autocomplete recommendations and recommended searches encouraging users to watch her ‘body removal video’ and ‘pictures’, her ‘bodybag’ or her being ‘pulled out of water’. 

The top autocomplete search after typing ‘Nicola Bulley’ into TikTok this morning was ‘Nicola Bulley Body Removal Video’. 

Users were also directed in the ‘Others search for’ box, an area which shows you what other users are looking for, to search requests featuring phrases like ‘hiding in tree’ or a ‘face under bridge’ connected to Bulley’s name. 

Both of these phrases are connected to two different conspiracy theories that have spread on the app in which users have attempted to discern shapes in video footage, claiming to see something hiding in a tree or under a bridge, and draw their own conclusions about what happened. 

After VICE World News raised the search terms with TikTok, the autocomplete suggestions and search recommendations appeared to change, removing references to the removal of Bulley’s body. 

TikTok says it has deployed additional resources to monitor the evolving conversation and developments of this case, and told VICE World News that it has continued to remove certain automated search suggestions related to it. 


A spokesperson issued a statement earlier this week saying: “Our thoughts are with Ms Bulley's family and friends at this difficult time. We do not tolerate bullying or harassment on TikTok and remove content that violates our policies.”

They added: "We have mobilised resources to monitor the evolving conversation about this case. We are taking action against violations of our Community Guidelines, including removing content and accounts, and limiting the reach of some content by making it ineligible for recommendation.”

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment to VICE World News about the suggested search terms.

The appetite for information on the disappearance had led some users leaving their online worlds and physically visiting the crime scene.

When amateur detectives arrived in the area to dig up local woodland, a police spokesperson told British news outlet The Independent: “We have made it very clear that online amateur sleuths should not be coming to St Michael’s interfering with the investigation and causing concern to the local community. They are a continuing distraction to the case and our efforts to trace Nicola.”

On Saturday, local council chief Michael Vincent said: "It's almost as though social media idiocy and reality have become blurred.

"We've had these weirdos, these ghouls, trying people's door handles, peering through their windows. There has to be an element of decency. We can't allow social media to be a place where there is no morality."

Conspiracy videos continue to proliferate on TikTok around Bulley’s death, which took VICE World News less than a minute to find after searching for her name. One that erroneously claimed a serial killer was on the loose Sunday in connection with Bulley remains on the platform, and has been seen over 700,000 times. 

Social media expert Matt Navarra told VICE World News: “It is surprising that TikTok hasn't taken steps to limit the search autocomplete and search recommendations. That to me seems like a very quick win and an easy solution to some of the discovery problems.”

He added that the police were powerless to tackle this, and that “it will come down to us as users of the platform choosing not to engage in consumers’ content and then TikTok doing everything in its power to reduce the discovery visibility of this content and possibly find ways to then reduce the incentives for creators this sort of content.”