This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
While all of God's creations can be found on TikTok, one species is better recognised than most: the e-boy. Characterised by floppy hair, necklaces, and 90s T-shirts layered over long sleeves, they usually lip-sync and wink their way through songs. Among them, a new trend is emerging.
Searching "crazy boyfriend" or "psycho ex" on TikTok reveals a plethora of posts where e-boys scowl, shout or grin menacingly at the camera in what are known on the app as POV (point-of-view) videos.
One post, in which a guy holds a baseball bat and draws a finger across his throat, has 20,200 likes. The caption: "I'm the crazy ex-boyfriend and I still love you. U need to break up with your boyfriend or he might get hurt."
The boys – who smirk, or attempt seductive scowls at the camera while abusing an imaginary girlfriend – don't seem to be using their platform to condemn male violence. Rather, they appear to have conflated being a "bad boy" with being abusive. And much like videos of young women simulating domestic abuse on TikTok, the clips are being tuned into by hundreds – even thousands – of viewers.
Sixteen-year-old TikTok user Ryan Esling has over 580,000 followers on the app. He says his video, where he plays a "crazy ex-boyfriend" who kills his ex's new partner, was inspired by shows like Netflix's You, which feature similar characters. "I was inspired by these shows to create different characters, as it seemed to attract the teenage demographic the most," says Ryan. "I was faced with a lot of comments from girls saying it's attractive."
These kinds of posts generally receive positive responses from female users. In one video, where a boy pretends to kill his girlfriend for cheating on him, comments from girls include "I'd never cheat on you", "butterflies" and "THIS IS AMAZING".
The videos do also face some criticism, of course; on one, a girl comments that it gave her flashbacks, while another writes: "Can we stop glorifying abusive relationships? You wouldn't be making cute lil TikToks about it if you actually knew what it felt like to be in one."
Romanticising abusive relationships for likes should be universally offensive – so why do some girls enjoy watching these posts so much?
One TikTok user, who didn't want to be named, says it's the "bad guy" character, rather than the violence being depicted, that she finds appealing.
"It's more about how the media, like in most movies and TV shows, portrays the 'bad guy' as mysterious and attractive – leading many girls, and guys as well, to have a subconscious attraction to that type of person," she explains. "I'm less attracted to the fact that the guy is portraying a psychopath, and more to the fact that I can connect it back to characters I liked in movies and TV shows."
Twenty-year-old Kim follows popular TikTok user Jordy Boulet-Viau, who has posted several "psycho boyfriend" videos on the app.
"I absolutely don't like when people yell at me, and I would never like if my boyfriend hurt me," Kim says. "But I guess everyone has a little fantasy, although one doesn't want that in real life."
"I find the videos of [Jordy] kind of sexy," she continues. "Although it's a little sick and toxic, it's a bit attractive, because he shows that he cares. I know it's way too much for a working relationship, but in these videos it's charismatic to me somehow."
Another TikTok user, Selena McDowell, says lots of people romanticise abuse on the app: "Honestly, I think I've just been too desensitised. I watch crime and law shows every single day, so things that should scare or upset me just don't.
"Also, if the video didn't have filters and music, it would have a different effect on me. In my opinion, it's the editing that tends to make people like it."
Lucy Hadley, policy and campaigns manager at domestic abuse charity Women's Aid, says the videos are worrying. "It is disturbing that, as survivors tell us abuse is escalating under [Covid-19] lockdown, jealous and controlling behaviour is being glamourised in this way."
On average, two women in the UK are killed each week by a former or current partner, while Lucy says research from Cosmopolitan and Women's Aid found that 64 percent of teenage girls had experienced abusive behaviour, even if they did not recognise it as such.
An abusive boyfriend isn't a "bad boy" or a character people should feel comfortable impersonating for clout online. But like everything in this world, from MySpace scene culture to the "chav" caricature, it's now playing out on TikTok.