Editor’s Note: This article contains mentions of domestic violence. Please take care while reading, and note the helpful resources at the end of this story.
A couple filmed themselves following a car without a license plate after they noticed the woman in the passenger seat was flashing the universal “help signal” for domestic violence victims. The TikTok racked up over 16 million views, but TikTok users are questioning whether the video was completely staged.
In the clip, a woman in a nearby car seems to be intentionally holding her hand up to the window with her thumb tucked into her palm and then repeatedly folding her fingers down to cover her thumb. According to the World Bank, the single-handed gesture was originally created to address the rise in domestic violence cases during COVID-related self-isolation when victims could silently alert others over a video call or in-person.
Tony Hernandez and Angel Porrino, the couple behind the video, typically post more lighthearted content like prank videos or hack tutorials. But a number of their top-performing videos include them “capturing” a fight breaking out at the post office, unidentified surveillance footage of a drunk woman allegedly almost getting kidnapped and another video of a woman in a public place asking for help. None of the posts disclose whether they are staged or whether they came from another source.
In their most recent video, Porrino, who is driving, can be heard telling Hernandez that she saw a woman in a passing car do “that signal for help,” so they pulled up next to the car to look again.
“She did it again, she did it again,” Porrino said. “What do we do?”
Hernandez suggested they drop back behind the car and follow them. At one point Porrino can be heard speaking as if on the phone with a 911 operator.
“Hi, I’d like to report I think a situation of domestic abuse,” Porrino said. “We just saw this woman in a car and she signaled for help.”
After Porrino said goodbye, she told Hernandez that she was told they shouldn’t continue following the car.
“What if they don’t find her?” Hernandez asked.
The couple continued to follow the car until it turned into a gas station. In their self-described “thrilling” follow-up, the driver of the car left to go inside and the couple drove up to the passenger side of the car.
That’s when Porrino got out, opened the woman’s door and had her get into the backseat of the couple’s car. The woman says something in a different language and then the footage ends.
Commenters seemed skeptical about the legitimacy of the video. Multiple of the top comments on the first TikTok includes an accusation about the situation being staged. Some were confused by the alleged 911 call, with several asking the creators why the dispatcher didn’t stay on the line with them.
“They took the info and said don’t follow,” the couple responded in a comment. “They didn’t seem that concerned. Maybe they deal with too many crazy people making drama.”
In the comment section of the second video, the couple wrote they were “not actors.”
“What is this a real thing or a simulation like an example of it or something to raise awareness?” one person asked.
“Yes,” the couple answered, not clearing anything up.
Hernandez eventually posted another TikTok directly in response to one of the top comments that read “Stage.”
“You think that you’re having this big aha moment but you’re missing the point of this video completely,” he said. “This video is doing good, right, is teaching a lesson.”
He explained that commenters who were calling the video “fake” were “discrediting” the message.
“You should be straight up embarrassed,” Hernandez continued. “Even if you’re like, ‘Oh it’s staged’ or even if you think that or want to pitch that, just take this message [of the hand signal] and learn it and look out for it.”
While Hernandez did not explicitly deny the video was staged, he did add in a comment, “Free lesson: When there’s outrage and tons of comments, it helps the video go viral. We’re raising awareness to masses.”
Outrage is an effective way to get a lot of attention. New York University associate professor of psychology Jay Van Bavel found that “for every moral, emotional word that people use in a tweet” it increased the rate of others retweeting by 15% to 20%.
However, social media users, particularly young ones, are prioritizing authenticity in their media consumption more than ever before. Audiences don’t want to be lied to, even if the lie is “raising awareness” or teaching a potentially life-saving lesson.
“We don’t care that people get mad about it, as long as it sparks conversation and people talking,” the couple wrote in a comment.
But some viewers still feel more misled than educated. Commenters accused the two-part series was more about driving views and gaining followers than spreading awareness — especially when the couple started answering questions about the alleged aftermath.
“What happened next?” one person asked.
“A family member met us at the police station,” the couple replied. In another comment, they explained, “We weren’t planning to post, so we didn’t film anymore.”
A Google search for a domestic abuse victim being rescued by two strangers in Las Vegas on or around July 30 did not yield any results that matched Hernandez and Porrino’s story. According to World Population Review, Nevada has one of the highest percentages of women reporting they experience domestic violence in the U.S.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or concerning behavior from an intimate partner, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or use the hotline’s online chat feature. You can also connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor at no charge by texting the word “HOME” to 741741. Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website to learn the possible warning signs of domestic abuse.
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