‘TikTok Star Murders’ Review: New True Crime Documentary Exposes The Dark Side of Social Media Stardom

TikTok Star Murders

The Peacock documentary TikTok Star Murders is a rough watch. It’s a chilling account of intimate partner violence and coercive control. Through historical livestreams and past vlog posts, the stage is set for a ghastly tragedy. The writing is on the wall. We know how this concludes. So, watching it unfold is all the more excruciating.

TikTok Star Murders follows the downfall of influencer Ali Abulaban. Ali met his wife, Ana, when he was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. When Ana learned she was pregnant with their baby, she relocated to Ali’s home base in Virginia. Ali eventually rose to prominence as a social media influencer. Though his dreams were coming true, Ali’s insecurities eventually drove a wedge between the couple. Their marriage deteriorated beyond the point of salvage and the union ultimately ended in a double murder.  

In watching samples of his posts, it is clear Ali dreamed of being Tony Montana. He created countless videos where he played that character. Not to mention, he developed a nasty cocaine habit that would give old Tony a run for his money. 

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In many of his videos, he’s playing angry characters that throw tantrums. It’s exaggerated and intended to be comedic. But I also get the impression there’s an element of fantasy fulfillment. It comes across like Ali has a fragile ego and the characters he plays pump him up and make him feel like more of a man.  

According to those who know him well, Ali has a jealous streak and a tendency to be possessive of the women in his life. That piece further suggests Ali deals with major insecurities. Possessive partners are often secretly afraid they are unlovable. They may project an image of confidence to the world but it’s typically an act. Therapy can help people shed those feelings of inadequacy, but when we neglect our mental health, it usually declines. In Ali’s case, social media stardom may have compounded his mental health struggles and perceived self worth issues.  

Ali began to come across as cocky after achieving success on TikTok. But I suspect the same core wounds still existed below the surface and the adulation of his fans amounted to a band-aid solution. But the fame ultimately made everything worse. The notoriety he achieved unleashed a monster. 

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The documentary gives viewers a look at the dark side of social media stardom. The validation influencers get is shorter-lived than that experienced by those who take a more conventional route to fame. For an insecure social media star, you are only as good as your last post. And those don’t have a long shelf life. That type of gratification-seeking can easily lead to a dynamic that looks a lot like addiction. And it may very well have become an addiction for Ali. As his presence grew, Ali became more and more dependent on cocaine, which further complicated matters. 

The filmmakers chronicle Ali’s downfall via his own audio and video recordings. They are a great window into Ana and Ali’s life together. The clips don’t paint Ali in a flattering light, so it’s surprising he made and kept them. But they provide the kind of glimpse behind closed doors you don’t often see in true crime cases, giving viewers a look at just how unhinged Ali became. 

The way Ali kept those recordings and repeatedly belittled Ana on his streams suggests he lacks any self-awareness about the way people perceive him. However, his fanbase likely reinforced the false narrative he’d created. An influencer interacting with their fanbase often exists in an echo chamber. These people look up to you and admire you. Of course they’re going to tell you what you want to hear. In some situations that may not be such a bad thing. But for an insecure man with violent tendencies and a persecution complex, that proved a dangerous scenario. 

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The documentary works well on the whole. My sole negative critique is that I wish the filmmakers dedicated more screen time to Rayburn Barron, Ali’s other victim. Barron is only mentioned as a footnote, but his death is just as tragic as Ana’s. It would be nice to see him memorialized in a similar fashion.

Although it’s not an easy watch, TikTok Star Murders is a film you should see. The more familiar you are with the signs of abuse, the better chance you have of spotting it when you encounter it. Additionally, the film serves as a heartfelt tribute to Ana by those who loved her the most. 

If you’re curious to check the documentary out for yourself TikTok Star Murders is now available to stream on Peacock

  • ‘TikTok Star Murders'


This true crime documentary is equal parts compelling and heartbreaking.

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