In April 2021, a hoax called “National Rape Day” went viral on TikTok. Videos garnered millions of views claiming that on April 24, 2021, large groups of men planned to sexually assault women en masse. Now, the same hoax is reemerging on the very same social media platform, which seems unable or unwilling to curtail the spread of viral misinformation.
While the “National Rape Day” hoax had been previously floating around the collective consciousness as an urban legend, it found new levels of virality through TikTok’s recommendation algorithm in 2021. The earliest mention of “National Rape Day” on social media that Media Matters could identify was a tweet from April 11, 2021, that read, “Please if you are in the uk, be safe, the boys have made a ‘national rape’ day and that’s tomorrow.” A screenshot of the tweet was circulating on 4chan’s /pol message board the next day.
It seems that shortly after this tweet, the hoax started to spread on TikTok, where it went viral. At the time, a Media Matters study found that 48 of the top 50 TikTok videos under the “#April24” hashtag contained misinformation and none of the videos provided a debunk or any factual information. The hoax gained further legitimacy through poor media coverage, which amplified the panic, as well as participation in the trend from some members of law enforcement on TikTok.
The consequences of misinformation
This hoax capitalizes on legitimate fears of sexual violence and perpetuates harmful myths surrounding the reality of sexual assault. In particular, it drastically overstates the prevalence of sexual assault committed by strangers, disregarding the reality that the vast majority (83%) of victims of sexual violence know their aggressor. The idea that sexual assault would be legalized for a day is obviously a fiction. There is also no evidence that online communities are self-organizing to randomly assault strangers at a predetermined date and time. However, sexual violence committed against friends, co-workers, relatives, and intimate partners is a daily occurrence — an American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds.
With trolls anonymously declaring their intent to participate in sexual assault, other TikTok users spreading panic, and other creators posting videos vowing to use violence in the name of protecting women (in one video with over 822,000 views a man says, “If u were thinkin about participating on April 24th just remember April 25 is national k1ll a r@p1st day”), the lines between joke, hoax, and genuine belief blurred to create panic on the app. As a result of this rampant misinformation, an 11-year-old brought knives to school in the U.K. to protect herself. Users seized upon instances of unrelated sexual violence –– including the murder of a 19-year-old girl in Minneapolis just prior to April 24, 2021 –– as evidence of the hoax’s validity.
Mass panic on TikTok
It appears the National Rape Day hoax has returned for 2023. Users have taken to TikTok to warn one another about the return of National Rape Day (sometimes referred to simply as “April 24th”). Some users are discussing their intention to carry weapons that day, including tasers and handguns. In one video with 2.1 million views, a user says, “I don’t care how illegal it is in California, i will be walking to work on april 24th with the safety off and the full intent of pulling the tr!gger if y’all try smthn.” On another video discussing the hoax, a user comments, “Bro I’m so scared I don’t want to go to school but I have to” to which the creator of the video replies: “Carry a weapon on you that’s what I do.”
Many of the videos illustrate users' fear of the hoax, with creators claiming they’ll be locking themselves in their rooms and not attending school or work on April 24.
One popular meme format related to the trend uses the lyrics “I’m not afraid of God, I am afraid of man” from the song “Savages” by the artist MARINA. This meme reiterates the fear that many TikTok users are experiencing, with users responding to questions like “Why don’t you want to go out April 24th?” with “I’m not afraid of God, I am afraid of men” (slightly modified from the original lyric).
Other TikTok users, frequently men, are taking the opportunity to volunteer as protectors for women, often celebrating the opportunity to act violently toward hypothetical assailants. In one video with 1.3 million views, a self-proclaimed men’s rights activist can be seen fashioning a strap into a weapon. He says:
Lads are you ready for April 24th? I for one am actually looking forward to it. Oh I’m sorry, did you think that this would be for the girls? Nah nah nah nah this ain’t for them. This is for anyone who thinks that this is fucking funny. … Men are naturally stronger than women and because of that, a real man is a protector. If you see me out on April 24th, you better run the other direction because you can guarantee I am going to be there to protect those women.
Several other videos feature a two-part meme format in which a man imagines he is asked to hang out on April 24 and he declines because he will be “checking on every girl I can to make sure they’re safe.”
In 2021, similar themes of protection resulted in the promotion of dangerous advice for women, such as the “Grab His Arm” trend that encouraged women who felt unsafe to grab the arms of men they did not know in their vicinity.
Troll accounts also appear to be reveling in an opportunity to incite fear and panic among users. In one video, a creator responds to a comment saying, “Imma get you on the 24.4 just wait.”
Threatening comments like this are difficult to find in a sea of videos warning women of dangers and promising to hurt the men who hypothetically participate. It would appear that the overwhelming majority of engagement with the National Rape Day hoax is coming from those condemning or expressing fear about it. Misinformation, even when it is coming from those with ostensibly good intentions, can still cause harm.
TikTok’s design is amplifying a hoax
The aforementioned #April24 hashtag has since been removed, but other related hashtags such as #april24th, #24april and even #april24purge are still accessible and have well over 100 million views collectively. A search for “National Rape Day” on the platform brings up a page with sexual assault resources but no debunk for the viral misinformation. A search for “National R Day” brings up a plethora of videos promoting the hoax. While conducting this research, Media Matters encountered only one video which debunked the hoax, with just 528 likes.
TikTok’s prompted search function (a feature which automatically connects comments sections with the most popular search related to that video) is also leading users toward National Rape Day misinformation.
TikTok must take a more proactive approach to mitigating misinformation about hoaxes like this on its platform. The company was made aware of the National Rape Day hoax in April of 2021 and, nearly two years later, the misinformation is still running rampant on its platform and terrifying its users.