The documentary “TikTok: Murder Gone Viral” is a bizarre exploration of society’s fascination with social media.
The impact of social media on our society is a topic that will be examined by historians in the future. It is currently unknown if it has caused harm to our cognitive abilities, hindered our interpersonal skills, and created a generation of morally corrupt individuals seeking fame, or if this concern is simply a common pattern of each generation being wary of the younger generation’s behavior as too rebellious and unconventional.
The title of ITV’s three-part documentary series, “TikTok: Murder Gone Viral”, puts a strong focus on the role of TikTok in the 2022 murders of Saqib Hussain and Hashim Ijazuddin. However, this oversimplifies the complex tragedy. The first episode, which was provided for review, starts with a recreation of Saqib’s 999 call reporting that he and Hashim were being followed and ends in September 2023 with the conviction of TikTok influencer Mahek Bukhari, her mother Ansreen, and two others for their murder (three others were convicted of manslaughter). The show includes police footage, interviews with journalists and investigators, and clips from Mahek’s social media under the username “May B”. Ansreen is frequently shown, often shopping and dancing with her daughter in a codependent relationship reminiscent of “Grey Gardens” and “Toddlers & Tiaras”.
Despite having over 160,000 followers, Mahek’s followers do not seem to play a significant role in her actions. Her accomplices are described as “followers” with a dark, modern-day Manson family vibe, but it is unclear if she recruited them from the comments section or if they were just friends following each other. The most disturbing aspect of this heinous crime, which resulted in a fiery blaze and the unrecognizable bodies of two men identified only by their dental records, is that there was a clear motive: 45-year-old married mother-of-two Ansreen had been having a three-year affair with 21-year-old Saqib (the math checks out, 42 and 18), and he threatened to expose their relationship to their close-knit Muslim community. The reason why she involved her daughter and why five others joined the plan is not discussed in detail. The number of followers Mahek has seems insignificant compared to the disturbing mother-daughter dynamic that even Freud would find unsettling.
The decision to create a film about TikTok is often unusual, as it repeatedly shows clips of the two women, including Ansreen’s statement, “I made her do it,” and a brief moment of them laughing like partners in crime, following each recap of the offense. We learn very little about the duo except that they post cringey dances on TikTok and that Mahek is a terrible liar who presents a foolish alibi during her police interviews, practically admitting guilt.
The commentators are not particularly insightful. Rajiv Popat, a news reporter for ITV, is skilled at summarizing important happenings. However, Tracey Kandohla, a crime journalist, seems to resemble the Saturday Night Live character Stefon. She describes the case as having “everything” – love, infidelity, revenge, money, and ultimately murder – and later reiterates that it also includes love, obsession, blackmail, and murder.
All the experts agree that Mahek’s desire for attention is the driving force behind their actions, which seems contradictory for someone trying to avoid being caught as a killer. According to the judge, “TikTok and Instagram are the main factors,” and DI Mark Parish consistently mentions, “If it weren’t for social media, I believe Saqib and Hashim would still be alive today.” However, despite their claims, it is never explained why they believe the algorithm played a role in the event of a group arriving at a Tesco car park with weapons.
The most impactful messages in this film come from the fathers of Saqib and Hashim. Their words are filled with sorrow, but they also express determination to seek justice for their sons. One particularly moving moment is when Hashim’s father speaks about his son, who was simply giving a ride to a friend in Leicester. Despite his grief, he still smiles when recalling memories of his son: “Mashallah he was a beautiful boy and by chance, by luck, by fortune, I got to be his dad.” This is in stark contrast to his description of the perpetrators, who showed up to court the following year with defiance and cheer, lacking any remorse. He questions how they can even consider themselves human after such actions.
It is possible that TikTok is to blame for this lack of compassion, and it may be true that the pursuit of “likes” results in what the judge deems as an “obsession with oneself, coupled with an unwarranted belief of deserving special treatment,” ultimately leading to becoming a ruthless murderer. However, this film fails to effectively make this argument and does a disservice to the tragedy of losing these two young men and the devastating impact it has had on their loved ones. Instead, it focuses on attacking social media platforms.