- TikTok Live has been serving up videos of people eating bugs on the app's "For You Page."
- The live streams frequently show people with clear bowls and spoonfuls of live bugs and grubs.
- Users have received monetary "gifts" and other forms of engagement for claiming to eat the bugs.
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TikTok users looking to score large audiences on their livestreams and earn real money from viewers have taken to a slimy new tactic: pretending to eat live insects.
In the livestream videos, which appear to originate from outside the United States and often from Russian-speaking users, streamers chat with their audience while holding a bowl full of squirming, live insects. While the bugs may look like some type of pasta or multicoloured grain to an unassuming viewer, a closer inspection reveals they appear to be living insects or larvae, often placed in a clear bowl or plastic container.
Insider observed several of these videos in late October and early November on the app's For You Page, the individualised feed that the app's algorithm caters to each user.
TikTok has been pushing different kinds of livestreams to its US audiences, who can't easily opt-out of seeing the disturbing footage. The innovative "FYP" has been credited with skyrocketing TikTok to its place as one of the most popular social-media apps but has also been linked to harassment and harmful trends.
It doesn't appear that the majority of the streamers in these streams are actually eating the creepy crawlers. In most videos, streamers scoop the bugs up on a spoon and hold it up to the camera, sometimes bringing the bugs close to their face. Insider hasn't viewed a live video of anyone actually eating the bugs.
One stream viewed by Insider showed a man alternating between pretending to eat the bugs and scooping them up and putting them in his hair. In another, a user chewed on a slimy white substance as he held the spoon full of what appeared to be squirming insects near his mouth.
The livestreams containing bugs appear to successfully attract viewers, which can incentivise creators to try out the trend themselves to max out viral potential. The trend follows a slew of gross and even dangerous streaming trends that users have engaged in to earn money.
Users are discussing the footage on other social media platforms
Posts on other social media platforms have called attention to how often this footage appears on For You Pages.
"Someone please fucking tell me why these clowns on tiktok are eating bugs out of no where... clout is one hell of a drug," one Twitter user wrote on October 27.
Also on October 27, one Reddit user wrote in the r/Tiktokhelp subreddit: "Why do I keep seeing people with bowls full of mugs or maggots and other shit eating them on random TikTok lives?"
One TikTok video parodying the bug-eating trend has more than 16 million views and more than 2 million likes.
In the parody, the TikTok user imitates fake chewing noises and holds a bowl with a print-out of a picture of mealworms. "They make me so mad," the caption says.
One creator said he tried the bug-eating trend
Aki West, a 27-year-old TikToker with almost 340,000 followers, told Insider that he also saw people on TikTok Live with bowls of maggots. West, who said he pivoted to TikTok after losing his full-time airport job at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, saw an opportunity to join a growing trend.
"Their Lives had 100,000 views, which was shocking," he told Insider in a phone interview Wednesday. "I was like 'You know what, let me try this trend and see if it works.'"
West, who lives in London, said he ordered rainbow-coloured larvae from an online fishing supplies store. As shown in his Live, he poured them into a clear plastic container and mimed eating them like cereal, holding up spoonfuls of squirming worms.
"I didn't think it was working for me," at first, he said. "And then the views started going up and up and up."
Viewers reached 1,000, and then quickly hit 2,000 before eventually reaching 30,000, he said. But West said he didn't actually eat them.
"I'm obviously not going to eat them. I'm just trying to see if the trend works."
West said he makes some money from TikTok Live through "gifts," which are icons that TikTok users buy for creators with real money via in-app "coins." Creators can redeem these "gifts" for real money.
West said he did not ask for gifts in exchange for eating bugs but he was still criticised by viewers.
"I got so much hate, I'm still getting hate. They're calling me a scammer, I'm just trying a trend," he said.
Some users in comments of other TikTok Live videos seen by Insider told other users not to send gifts to creators who solicited them in exchange for eating the bugs, warning that the creators would accept them without ever consuming the creatures. TikTok has created policies around gift solicitation before. In December 2019, the platform changed its rules to restrict users under 18 from purchasing coins.
The videos resemble other reported livestream trends
A representative for TikTok did not return Insider's request for comment on Wednesday about whether these videos violated any policy or whether users should be soliciting gifts in these videos.
According to TikTok's community guidelines, the app prohibits content "that depicts or promotes ingesting substances that are not meant for consumption or could lead to severe harm."
It's unclear whether anyone has ingested actual insects or larvae in the TikTok trend, but if they are, they could get sick. Eating maggots or larvae, however, can lead to bacterial poisoning, according to Medical News Today.
Livestreaming culture is no stranger to bizarre, gross, and even dangerous trends. In Russia, a genre of streaming called "thrash streams" involves streamers causing physical pain and humiliation to themselves and others in exchange for monetary "gifts."
In December 2020, the girlfriend of one Russian streamer died off-camera after he locked her onto a balcony in freezing temperatures in her underwear, according to Russian reports. A Chinese streamer also died in 2019 after eating poisonous bugs and geckos during a stream.