- 29-year-old Nancy Ng disappeared on October 19 at a retreat in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.
- She went kayaking and never returned, leading authorities to think she drowned.
- But her family isn’t convinced, and TikTok sleuths have been sharing every update.
Nancy Ng disappeared on October 19 at a retreat in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, and TikTok is keeping up with every update.
Ng, a 29-year-old school assistant from Southern California, had gone on vacation to a yoga retreat and was reportedly kayaking on the lake when she vanished.
Authorities believe she may have drowned, though her family and friends are unconvinced, The Independent reported. As of December 4, Ng has not been found and her case remains unsolved.
Meanwhile, TikTokers have been sharing every new interview with witnesses and notices from police. Videos with the hashtag #NancyNg have amassed 36 million views on the platform.
Ed Choi, for example, who has almost 500,000 followers, has been reporting on Ng’s disappearance since November 5, with his videos regularly hitting hundreds of thousands or over a million views.
In his first video, he addressed some “really shady” circumstances around Ng’s case, including some comments by Chris Sharpe, the leader of the search-and-rescue team hired by Ng’s family.
According to ABC7, Sharpe said he was having trouble getting witnesses to come forward or speak to him, and that his team had searched most of the lake and not found anything.
“For me, this is now becoming a criminal investigation because the witnesses who were there at a material time are not being forthcoming,” he told the outlet.
Choi, and others, have since made videos reporting on every update about Ng’s disappearance, including when a video of her kayaking was released, and when the last person thought to see Ng alive, named Christina Blazek, came forward.
The rise of armchair sleuths
True crime content is huge on TikTok, with videos about historic cases regularly racking up millions of views. But internet sleuths have also played an increasing role in mysteries that unfold in real-time.
For example, when van life influencer Gabby Petito went missing in August 2021, social media was flooded with information about her disappearance, and theories about what may have happened to her. Some content played a part in getting her case solved.
Kendal Stoneystreet, an associate lecturer in criminology and sociology at Sheffield Hallam University, told Business Insider that this fascination with unfolding events is unsurprising because humans are particularly interested in “anything psychologically morbid.”
“We can watch these frightening experiences from the safety of our homes, allowing us to vicariously experience through TV or films, and now TikToks,” she said.
It helps that people can consume detailed overviews in bitesize chunks on apps like TikTok, Stoneystreet added, which she has observed many of her students doing.
Choi’s videos, for instance, are informative and packed full of sources and references, and only a couple of minutes long each.
Stoneystreet told BI the problem-solving element is something that attracts people to true crime, all the way back to the disappearance of Madeline McCann, or even Jack the Ripper.
“Our desensitization to true crime, due to our constant consumption of media, means it’s almost a challenge or a game to solve these puzzles,” she said. “It feels satisfying when our predictions or suspicions are confirmed as right.”
This phenomenon has been coined “the curious case of the armchair detective” by criminologist Professor David Wilson.
The dark reality
Though armchair sleuths can have their benefits, a lot of information shared about true crime can be misinformed, insensitive, or exaggerated. Some spread outright conspiracy theories that add no aid to active investigations.
“If you look at TikTok coverage on Nancy Ng, the ones with the most likes include those covering conspiracies like her death being a cult-based sacrifice or an elaborately coordinated hate crime,” Stoneystreet said.
She added is often forgotten that there are real people and families behind the stories, who may not be happy about strangers profiting off their tragedy.
For example, in October, a man named Lawrence Crook begged TikTokers to stop making true crime content about his mom’s murder. Odessa Carey, 73, was murdered by her mentally ill daughter, Crook’s sister, in 2019.
Four years later, people on TikTok are still making videos about the case, so Crook spoke to Chronicle Live about what that was like.
“People see it as entertainment, to see how many likes they can get,” Crook told the outlet. “But they need to stop and think about the real families behind it.”
Stoneystreet said cases that go viral tend to feature a particular type of victim: a young, attractive white woman.
“What is interesting about the case of Nancy Ng is that this is a woman of Asian descent,” she said. “However, much of the rhetoric surrounding the case from Asian creators and other creators of color is how Nancy Ng’s story should receive similar visibility to that of Gabby Petito’s.”
This issue has occurred before. In January 2022, TikTokers criticized the media and the public for a lack of attention on Lauren Smith-Fields, a Black woman who was found dead after a Bumble date.
At the time, many referenced a phenomenon sociologists call “missing white woman syndrome,” where cases of missing white women and girls are far more likely to make the news than women of color.
While some creators including Choi, and true crime podcaster Kourtney Nichole who has 1.2 million followers, have managed to increase awareness of Ng’s case, it certainly hasn’t hit the headlines to the extent Petito’s disappearance did.
Videos on TikTok with the hashtag #GabbyPetito also amassed 2.2 billion views — 61 times more than those tagged with #NancyNg.
TikToker and musician Arigato Grande addressed this issue and said she was “infuriated” with how Ng’s case had been handled in a video posted on November 4, from the witnesses staying silent, to two weeks of minimal media coverage, to the Guatemalan navy giving up their search in 72 hours.
“If you cared so much about Gabby Petito’s case, you need to also care about Nancy Ng,” she said. “I know there’s a lot going on in the world right now, but our friend is missing and the family is suffering. They need answers.”