When I realized that I loved watching “am I the a–hole” TikToks, my life hit an all-time low. There is nothing more embarrassing than finding out that videos of Reddit posts, mobile gameplay, and robotic voices can hold my attention for minutes at a time. It is one of the laziest, morally questionable, iPad-kid forms of content but has a grip on my life like nothing else.
It started out small. I would go onto TikTok for my daily dose of social media when one of the videos would pop up. “AITA for snapping at my stepmom when she wouldn’t stop asking to be in the delivery room with me?” I would watch the video, curious about what events could lead to an escalation like that. If I were in that situation, would I be the a–hole? I found it fascinating, almost cathartic, to see these strangers on the internet spill their problems for the whole world to judge.
(If you are wondering what happens at the end of that post, the comment section deemed this woman NTA — not the a–hole. The stepmother was overstepping her boundaries and no matter how good their relationship was before the pregnancy, no means no).
AITA TikToks are like books for short attention spans. The robot voice reads the text out loud and if you ever get bored you can watch the creator play “Subway Surfers” in the background like that one kid who was not allowed to bring their iPad to school. The titles always bring you in, making you think “well, surely that person is the a-hole.” But, low and behold, once you watch the video you realize, “oh, they actually were not.” It is the same twist every time but the drama is enough to make you keep watching on the small chance that the person who posted was actually in the wrong.
But my biggest problem with AITA TikToks is not the fleeting interest followed by quick-to-come boredom that comes with all TikToks. Nor is it the clickbait video titles and repetition of plot twists. All of these are issues, obviously, but what I find to be the most concerning is the sheer narcissism and moral hypocrisy underlying the whole trend.
The people who write on these posts have complete control over the stories they tell. What we, the viewers, hear is one side of the story. And yet, we hold the details that the person tells us as truth. And, when the video is over, we flood the comments section with “Of course, you are not the a-hole. How could you ever think differently?”
The people who make these posts vent about their problems and although it is healthy to share your feelings, you should not do it like this. They are sharing events that have happened in their personal lives, involving their close family and friends, with the anonymity of the internet behind them. They paint themselves as the heroes or victims, but never as the villain. They have the ability to twist their stories and watch as we validate their morality and tell them that they, of course, did nothing wrong, forgetting that relationships are a two-way street.
I guess that is my real problem with AITA posts. Despite how terrible or awful the people the videos describe may be, I always get the feeling that the storyteller is leaving something out. That they are lying and twisting the narrative so that strangers on the internet can tell them how right they are. They do not make these videos because they want to get their problems off their chest or to see things from an outside perspective. They make these videos so that we can validate them. “You are a good person,” we will tell an anonymous Reddit user whom we know nothing about. And suddenly their need to reflect and take accountability for their real-life actions disappears because the giant mass that we call “the internet” collectively agrees that they did nothing wrong.
However, despite how upsetting and twisted I find these videos to be, I cannot stop watching them. I love how over the top and dramatically these people are described, regardless of the fact that this telling might be far from the truth. I relish in the way viewers say that these people are NTA because if anonymous, morally grey Reddit users are not a-holes then how can I be one? This is why I keep watching, why we keep watching. Our need to validate others on the internet stems from our desire to be told that we are good people. We want nothing more than for someone to tell us that our actions are virtuous because the alternative is facing that, deep down, we are immoral. But choosing to ignore self-reflection and responsibility in your personal life in favor of the validation of strangers? Well, that makes you the a–hole.
Photo by Brett Jordan from Unsplash