If you’ve been on TikTok this past week, chances are you’ve seen a ton of content about the elusive “couch guy.” In case you missed it, TikTok user @laurenzarras uploaded a video where she surprised her boyfriend at college. Captioned “Robbie had no idea,” the viral video shows Lauren walking into an apartment with a remix of ‘Still Falling For You’ by Ellie Goulding playing in the background. Her boyfriend is sitting on a couch with three other girls before he gets up to greet Lauren with a hug. Lauren’s boyfriend has since been dubbed “couch guy” by the internet masses.
As heartwarming music plays during the reunion, Lauren’s TikTok is a wholesome video at first glance. However, many TikTok users have taken to the platform suggesting that the video is one big “red flag.” Claiming that Robbie’s reaction and body language is suspicious, plenty of TikTok users believe that Robbie is cheating on Lauren and that she should break up with him.
Meanwhile, other TikTok creators have started parodying Lauren’s video.
“Surprising my boyfriend at college,” the text reads as TikTok user @jilashwani walks in to greet her boyfriend, only to find him cuddled up with another girl. With unenthused, cheating boyfriends being the butt of the joke, these videos also play on the naivety of the girlfriend.
Jilash’s TikTok and thousands of similar videos have gone viral over the past week, prompting both Lauren and Robbie to respond to the drama. Lauren asked users to “stop the hate” surrounding the video. Meanwhile, Robbie took to the platform, under the name @souljawatchambassador, urging viewers to stop being “parasocial creeps” and “go get some fresh air” rather than continuously analysing the video.
At the time of publication, #couchguy has accumulated 466.9 million views, with Lauren’s original video amassing over 54 million. However, the #couchguy phenomenon has raised some important questions; why do we feel like we can comment on the personal lives and relationships of seemingly random TikTok users? And why can’t we look away when things start to fall apart?
The demographics of TikTok’s user base
TikTok has a young user base where teenagers and children make up the majority of TikTok’s active users. Statista estimates that under-19s constitute 25% of its user base in the United States. In fact, The New York Times claims one-third are under the age of 14. With such a young demographic, I can’t say I’m surprised by TikTok’s obsession with “couch guy” and the corresponding relationship drama.
Teenagers have long consumed “coming-of-age” style media that focuses on the ups and downs of relationships. Think Gossip Girl, Euphoria, New Girl, and even Love Island. Ranging from reality television to drama, these shows all have one thing in common; a focus on romance and relationships. Speaking specifically to the relationship reality TV boom, Gery Karantzas explains that, “proponents of these shows contend they create an atmosphere for viewers to explore their own relationships.” With the teenage years being one of the first opportunities to experiment with romance, consuming this type of content allows the entertainment industry to shape longer-term perceptions and expectations of their own relationships.
With CNBC reporting that the average Gen Z spends 3.4 hours watching videos online daily, teenagers have seemingly switched the silver screen for short-form video. However, our entitlement to speculate and critique the characters in TV shows and movies has transcended the fictional space. Instead of dissecting our favourite character’s relationships and tagging certain couples as “relationship goals,” we have moved to critique real people and relationships through social media. The “couch guy” phenomenon is the perfect example of this.
TikTok users like @thenameiscayy went viral after criticising “couch guy” and his reaction to Lauren’s visit. “I’m sorry but if I flew across the country to visit my bf and I walk in on him sitting with 3 girls, not even excited to see me, I’d turn my ass around and go right back home,” the text reads.
While indifference to a surprise visit may be a cause for concern, it is unfair to assume what an “excited” reaction should look like. Perhaps Robbie doesn’t appreciate or enjoy spontaneity or surprises, especially within a group of people? Maybe he was just caught off guard? With TikTok’s young user base understanding relationships through social media and the entertainment industry, many viewers may have conflated fictional relationships and reactions as a reality.
TikTok “sleuths” and mob mentality
But Robbie’s reaction wasn’t the only part of the video that confused viewers. Enter the TikTok “sleuths.”
From the disappearance and murder of Gabby Petito to the manslaughter charge against cosplayer “Snow,” TikTok users are self-proclaimed detectives. Breaking down the video frame by frame and zooming in, many viewers have treated the “couch guy” video as a true crime case.
One TikTok user, @ash.0311, went viral after pointing out Robbie’s phone. She claims that the girl next to Robbie was holding his phone and slyly passed it to him after Lauren walked into the room.
Content creator @heyitspham also jumped in on the #couchguy drama. She insists that the girl next to Robbie had her hand on his back and notes an awkward reaction from the three girls on the couch after Lauren’s arrival.
If that is not enough, TikTok user, @haillefitzgerald, posted a video zooming in on the alleged hair tie on Robbie’s wrist. Since “couch guy” has short hair, many TikTok sleuths find the hair tie suspicious. Meanwhile, other users claim that he is actually wearing a bracelet.
As the ‘evidence’ snowballs, internet sleuths have come to a verdict: Robbie is cheating on Lauren. Case closed.
With consensus around Robbie’s “guilt,” TikTok users have started to exhibit mob mentality. This may be because the evidence against Robbie is compelling, but the TikTok algorithm undoubtedly plays a role. With the algorithm carefully curated to suit the user, it is easy to fall into an “information bubble” and only encounter opinions and beliefs that reflect and reinforce your own.
As Jeanne Croteau writes for Forbes, “When (mob mentality) takes place on social media, a misspoken word or poorly developed thought can be shared like wildfire. Before long, it can feel like you’re facing a firing squad.” For Lauren, this is the onslaught of comments telling her to break up with her boyfriend.
On the original video, one user commented “someone tag me when she’s done being in denial lol.” Another wrote, “girl he ain’t loyal.”
With sleuths convinced that Lauren is being deceived by Robbie, mob mentality has blinded users to the effect of their comments. TikTok creator @victoriahammett notes how the comments toward Lauren have taken on an aggressive tone. “Y’all went from trying to help this girl out to being straight up misogynistic real quick,” she writes.
As with several other viral moments as of late, TikTok’s “couch guy” is a stark reminder of how easy it is for us to get caught up in social media’s mob mentality and forget that the people on the other end of our screens are real humans with real human experiences and emotions.
And while it likely won’t change any time soon, it’s important to be cognisant of how damaging social media voyeurism can be and who really benefits from our cheap thrills.