How TikTok replaced modern-day tabloids

Can you believe Makayla was dropped from Bama Rush? Do you think Couch Guy was cheating? Did you see Gabby Petito’s last post before she went missing?

If you don’t spend much time online, you may not recognize these names. But on TikTok, their stories became sensationalized, memeified, hashtagged and rehashed.

The most recent is “#WestElmCaleb.” Women took to TikTok to share their experiences of being peppered with affection, strung along and ultimately ghosted by a New York City-based designer named Caleb, who became the exemplar for the worst aspects of online dating culture.

Together, these stories represent the emergence of what I call the “TikTok tabloid,” in which users collectively manufacture and dramatize stories like an investigative gossip reel. Traditional tabloids place the lurid limelight on celebrities and public figures. But the TikTok tabloid targets everyday people.

How did we get to the age of the TikTok tabloid? As someone who studies digital consumer culture, I see it as an outgrowth of the dynamics of social surveillance: using digital technologies to keep a close watch on one another, while producing online content in anticipation of being watched.

Shocking! Exclusive! Scoop!

Tabloid journalism isn’t new. Common tabloid genres of stars, sex, scandals and slayings have been cultural guilty pleasures since the early 1900s.

In the U.S., early tabloid newspapers like The Daily Mirror and New York Daily News ushered in an era of sensationalist reporting. These papers were particularly popular among working class readers who revealed in the speculative shenanigans of high society.

In the 1970s, glossy tabloid magazines like People and Us Weekly picked up the helm with behind-the-scenes celebrity exclusives and human-interest stories. Tabloid journalism migrated to the small screen in the 1990s with television shows like “Hard Copy” and “Inside Edition.”

And in the 2000s, the internet churned out round-the-clock celebrity gossip with clickbait headlines on websites like and

Previous eras of tabloid journalism were marked by highly curated content with a focus on lifestyles of the rich and famous. The brokers of attention were editors, publishers, paparazzi, journalists and publicists. Tabloids filtered information to the masses, and in turn the masses influenced celebrity behaviors.