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A grieving mom’s TikTok videos spark online speech battle

A judge has ordered a Mississippi woman who says her daughter was bullied to death to shut down her social media accounts, as a small-town tragedy balloons into an online drama with millions of onlookers.

After 13-year-old Aubreigh Wyatt died by suicide in September 2023, her grieving mother, Heather Wyatt, began posting about her death on TikTok, attracting hundreds of thousands of followers. Heather Wyatt attributed her daughter’s death to bullying, both online and offline, at the hands of schoolmates in Ocean Springs, Miss., near Biloxi.

Though Wyatt didn’t name the four teens she accused of bullying her daughter, their names and other information about them quickly surfaced in the replies to her posts, as well as in other TikTok and Facebook posts by her followers and supporters. Now the families of those four teens say they’re the ones being subjected to a vicious campaign of harassment and threats, and they’ve sued Wyatt for defamation and slander.

The saga is playing out online before an audience that reaches far beyond the 20,000 residents of Ocean Springs, illustrating how TikTok can put a national spotlight on a local tragedy in ways that complicate the lives of those involved. The case pits a grief-stricken mother’s right to speak out against the privacy and safety of the teens she blames for her daughter’s death.

On July 1, a judge in Jackson County Chancery Court granted an emergency injunction requiring Wyatt to temporarily shut down her TikTok, Facebook and other social media accounts “to protect the minor children in this case.” The order was leaked and circulated widely online despite the court ordering all records sealed, as earlier reported by the Biloxi Sun-Herald.

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Outraged supporters of Wyatt have posted TikTok videos protesting her “silencing,” some of which have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. The judge is scheduled to review the order in a hearing next week.

That case is separate from the defamation lawsuit against Wyatt, which the four teens’ families filed on July 2 in the county’s circuit court. They say Wyatt in her TikTok videos invited her followers to learn and reveal the names of the four teens, even after investigations by local police and a youth court found no evidence that they were responsible for Aubreigh Wyatt’s death.

In one particularly emotional video, Wyatt showed herself stumbling on her daughter’s suicide notes to members of the family months after her death. The family had previously thought Aubreigh didn’t leave a note.

Some TikTok videos about the case, which often include hashtags such as #LLAW (for Live like Aubreigh Wyatt), have millions of likes and tens of millions of views on the platform.

Wyatt has started a GoFundMe for her legal expenses, bringing in more than $95,000 from nearly 4,000 donors as of Wednesday afternoon. She did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, and an attorney representing her declined to comment.

Wyatt has said in TikTok videos that her goal is to shine a light on teen mental health issues. The plaintiffs accuse her of trying to capitalize on the situation for “clicks,” to grow her social media following and bring in revenue.

Patrick Guild, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said he couldn’t comment on the judge’s order because the case was sealed by court order, adding that he was disappointed to see it posted on social media.

“What has happened as a result of that is that a lot of different theories, and I’ll say, false information has come out” as to the reasons for the order, Guild said. He added that the accusations of bullying by his clients are “patently false” but have been “elevated to such a grand scale based on Heather Wyatt’s number of followers.”

“As a result, my clients have been receiving threats that in my opinion can be construed as real concerns for their safety,” he said.

Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit 988lifeline.org or call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.



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