At first glance, Bebop and Bebe, a TikTok page with more than two million followers, looks like a typical, albeit somewhat idiosyncratic, family account. The page features videos of Bebop, a girl with stick-straight hair who looks to be about eight or nine years old, mugging for the camera with her mom, a peroxide blond with a fondness for ethereal makeup filters. Together they dance to songs like “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins and Louis Theroux’s “Jiggle Jiggle” remix, lip-synching poorly to audios, usually against the backdrop of what appears to be a splashily decorated preteen girl’s room, with Bebop flaunting a wide range of impressive makeup looks and hairstyles.
It’s only when you go to the comments that you start to get the impression that something more sinister may be afoot. “Wear green if you’re kidnapped <3,” reads one comment with 1,559 likes; another says, “put a heart next to your next video if you’re in danger.” (In the next video the two post, neither Bebop nor Bebe are wearing green, but the title of the video is sandwiched by heart emojis; this is not unusual, however, as there are emojis in most of the titles of their videos.) In one of the videos, to the Ting-Tings’ “That’s Not My Name,” one commenter writes: “She’s not saying hey hey. She’s saying help help.”
Over the past few months, Bebop and Bebe have become the center of a sprawling, multi-armed conspiracy theory that has largely taken root on TikTok, driving millions of views and thousands of ostensibly concerned commenters to their page. Many of these commenters believe Bebop is being forced to produce content, and that a mysterious man who is sometimes seen in the videos — Bebe’s brother, who is occasionally referred to as “the Brother” — is responsible. They also believe Bebop has an older brother, who has been locked out of his social media accounts after refusing to film with the family (a teenage boy can be seen in some older videos, but his absence can easily be explained by the fact that a teenager may not want to appear in TikTok videos with his mom and little sister anymore.)
But the speculation runs even deeper than that. Many believe that Bebop and/or Bebop and Bebe are being trafficked, due to a lock seen in the bedroom they often film in. Some have suggested that the bedroom is in fact a set (something Bebe herself confirmed in a Live, though recording from a set is not uncommon among content creators). Some have proposed, due to BeBop’s sometimes mature appearance, that she is not, in fact, a real child, but an adult or teenager being forced to masquerade as a child, a la Gypsy Rose Blanchard. This particular thread has been fueled by the fact that some (but by no means all) of Bebop and Bebe’s content is genuinely disquieting; in one video, Bebop appears wearing a low-cut police costume more typically seen on an older woman, while in another, she wears a collar commonly associated with the kink community.
Perhaps the most nefarious vein of this narrative, however, is the suggestion that Bebop is not actually Bebop, but a missing child named Aranza Maria Ochoa-Lopez, a four-year-old girl from Vancouver, Washington who was in foster care before allegedly being abducted by her biological mother, Esmerelda Lopez-Lopez. Lopez-Lopez was arrested in 2019 and pled guilty to second-degree kidnapping and robbery and first-degree custodial interference, receiving a 20-month sentence as a result, but Aranza is still missing and believed to be living with relatives in Mexico.
Fueling speculation is the fact that Bebop and Bebe continue to produce content without directly acknowledging any of the concerned comments on their page, leading to the situation becoming “the TikTok sleuthing project of the month,” says Abbie Richards, an internet culture researcher who specializes in TikTok conspiracy theories. The Bebop and Bebe account has ignited the curiosities of armchair sleuths, commentary YouTubers, and true-crime TikTokers who enjoy “digging up missing people, picking apart the videos as evidence that they’re trapped. I mean, the story they’re putting together is a truly terrifying one,” says Richards.
The YouTubers and TikTokers who have made videos about the account don’t necessarily believe all of the specific conspiracy theories they outline. Rather, some say, they are motivated to speak out about Bebop and Bebe by a general feeling that “something is clearly not right,” says Hannah, a full-time content creator who goes by @hannahthehorribleyt on YouTube. Her YouTube commentary video about Bebop and Bebe outlining the various theories about the channel received more than 210,000 views.
Kaytlyn Stewart, a.k.a. DramaKween, a YouTuber with more than 250,000 subscribers, has made four videos about the Bebop and Bebe conspiracy theories. (One of the videos was sponsored by a company that produces plastic roses.) She found Bebop and Bebe by searching “creepy TikTok account” on the platform a few months back, while looking for content to make a video. “I think what makes this special is the amount of conspiracy theories around it,” she says. “You’ve got a mother and child doing TikToks together on a set. We don’t know where they live. We don’t know the verifiable age of the child. So many of these weird things that come together — why is there a door in this set, why are there speakers in the corner of this bedroom? There are so many unanswered questions, which is why it’s so interesting to me.”
TikTokers enjoy “picking apart the videos as evidence that they’re trapped. The story they’re putting together is truly terrifying.”
In truth, it is not all that difficult to gather information about the true identities behind Bebop and Bebe. Due to Bebop’s status as a minor, Rolling Stone is not publishing either her real name or the name of her mother, but she is a regular participant on the pageant circuit in the southern United States, where she goes by a stage name, which is not all that uncommon in that world. (It’s also not difficult to glean her approximate age: According to a Facebook post from a competition she placed in last year, as of June 2021 she was competing in the four-to-eight-year-old range.) On her Pageant Planet profile, she lists the various pageants she’s participated in and cites her and her mother as “social media influencers,” and her stage name was registered as an LLC last summer by a man who, when cross-referenced with social media posts, appears to be a close relative of the family.
Additionally, according to the contact information in their bio, Bebop and Bebe are managed by an agency called Six Degrees of Influence Talent, an influencer marketing agency registered in Calabasas, California, per Nexis records (though unlike many agencies, Six Degrees of Influence Talent does not list its clients on its public website). Neither Bebe, Six Degrees of Influence Talent, nor the man listed as the registrant of Bebop’s LLC responded to Rolling Stone‘s calls and emails requesting comment, but the public footprint left by the family members in their roles as influencers pretty clearly suggests that this is, at the very least, not a case of criminal trafficking.
Another conspiracy theory that’s not difficult to debunk is that Bebop is secretly the missing child from Washington State in disguise. A review of Bebe’s social media posts shows photos of Bebop with her mom and siblings as a toddler from 2017, long before Lopez went missing. And when reached for comment, reps from the public affairs office for the Seattle FBI said that while it had actually followed up on tips from armchair sleuths to this effect, “the theory that Bebop may in actuality be Aranza is something our investigators have followed up on and proven to be false. [We] do appreciate the public’s assistance in this case however, the search for Aranza continues.” (The office would not comment on just how many of these tips it had received.)
The uproar around Bebop and Bebe is far from the first time baseless conspiracy theories have overtaken TikTok, a platform that hosts a huge true-crime and armchair sleuthing community. In the summer of 2020, a rumor alleging that children were being trafficked in Wayfair shipping containers took over the platform, eventually making its way into the mainstream news cycle; similar baseless claims suggesting that young women are being abducted from Target or by criminals leaving abandoned car seats by the side of the road have also made their way across the platform, despite the fact that, as Rolling Stone has previously reported, the vast majority of traffickers are not strangers lurking in department stores, but relatives or loved ones of their victims.
Oftentimes, such conspiracy theories attempt to root out nefarious intent or a dark backstory from innocuous videos, targeting private individuals for intense scrutiny and harassment. Such was the case with Sabrina Prater, a transgender woman who became the subject of deeply transphobic conspiracy theories after people on the platform started speculating she was a serial killer based on videos of herself dancing in a dilapidated kitchen. Prater eventually tearfully took to the platform, begging people in a video to leave her alone. Similarly, a number of young women falsely identified as trafficking victims in various TikTok videos about the Wayfair conspiracy theory have come forward to speak about the impact such misinformation has had on their lives.
Stories such as the Prater case have led many to question whether the TikTok algorithm, which tends to prioritize sensationalized, high-engagement content, is boosting conspiracy theories and misinformation at the cost of private individuals’ welfare. This question certainly applies to the high level of interest around Bebop and Bebe, says Pamela Rutledge, the director of the Media Psychology Research Center. “The TikTok videos discussing B&B get attention. Attention, such as likes and comments, feels good — they are physiologically rewarding,” she says. “Being rewarded for subscribing to a theory reinforces the desire to embrace the theory — even to the point of hunting for evidence to support it. That evidence is then shared with the community for further reinforcement. In a case like this, where some of the concerns are for Bebop’s welfare in the face of the legitimately creepy and suggestive videos, there is a moral component that is also rewarding because it feels like a righteous quest.”
Other criticism has been aimed at the true-crime and commentary communities, which profit off conspiracy theories and promote such rumors without vetting them under the guise of “just asking questions.”
“Do these kids want to make the videos? Do they want to make ads? We really don’t know.”
Stewart, for example, the YouTuber who has made a number of videos about Bebop and Bebe, says that she does not believe that either Bebop or Bebe are being trafficked, or that they are wearing colors viewers request as a cry for help, or that Bebop is Aranza Lopez in disguise. Of Bebop and Bebe’s silence surrounding the conspiracies, as well as the occasional time they may wear a color that viewers request in the comments, she says, “I think it is a marketing scheme [to get views]. But a lot of people just want to believe the worst of whatever is happening on the internet.” When asked if she ever feels a responsibility not to propagate conspiracy theories about people on TikTok, however, Stewart demurs. “I believe personally there’s nothing wrong going on, but there are a lot of questions left unanswered,” she says, adding, “They’re not private individuals. If you post on social media, you will be talked about. There is nothing private once you start posting. If you want to keep your privacy, don’t post. It’s as simple as that.”
To complicate matters further, even though there is no evidence that anything sinister is going on with respect to Bebop and Bebe, what does seem irrefutably clear is that a young child is posting content on social media to a large audience that may or may not have good intentions in consuming her content. While this is not necessarily unusual on social media — particularly on an app like TikTok, which technically limits users to those under 13 but has a sizable minor user base nonetheless — it is disquieting regardless, and the idea that Bebop may be being exploited by her guardians to produce content is not an entirely invalid one.
“There are so many kids out there with huge social media followings and it’s not like child labor laws apply for accounts run by parents,” says Richards. “Do these kids want to make the videos? Do they want to make ads? We really don’t know,” she says. “But when we obsess over solving some hypothetical case on TikTok, we’re not actually having a conversation about the larger problem.” She says the focus on trafficking conspiracy theories is “very distracting.”
To many following the account, the most baffling thing about it is that Bebop and Bebe just keep posting, despite the thousands of comments expressing alarm at their content. Part of this may be money-related — they have a number of brand deals, including Bebop-patented slime that launched about a month ago — but it also seems to be fueled by the fact that all of this controversy is boosting engagement dramatically: Even though their account was suspended by TikTok a few months ago, they rebounded in spectacular fashion, garnering more than two million views. As Rutledge puts it: “Ironically, all the attention is rewarding the content, not stopping it.”