Kimberly Pereira filmed herself trying on a red dress that her fiancé bought her on TikTok.
To her shock, it resulted in a wave of online hate as people speculated he was cheating.
The couple told Insider their ordeal - which is not unique - was emotionally damaging.
Kimberly Pereira had been engaged to her fiancé Dario Lazic for 10 months when he surprised her with a gift: a short red sleeveless dress from an online boutique called White Fox.
Lazic, 27, told Insider he bought the dress as a postpartum gift for Pereira, 24, who gave birth to the couple's first child four months prior. "I wanted to help her to feel sexy and motivate her," he said.
Pereira loved the gift, and filmed herself trying it on, posting the video on her TikTok account, which has 10,000 followers, on January 4. Lazic could be seen offering a suggestion on how she should style her hair with the outfit, something he does often when they go out together, the couple, who are based in North Carolina, told Insider.
Within hours, Pereira's video was going viral, and it has received 4.4 million views. At first, she couldn't figure out why, because she posted it "for fun" and did not think it would get a lot of attention. When she looked at the comments section, she started to piece things together, she told Insider.
To Pereira's bewilderment, people were flooding her comments section with hateful remarks about Lazic, who they were convinced was trying to emulate the look of a popular Instagram model with his suggestions in the video - it quickly spiraled as strangers began spreading wild and untrue rumors about their relationship.
It's not the first time an interaction between a couple has thrust them into the viral spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The people at the center of such firestorms often have to deal with thousands of hateful comments and reactions, which can take a toll on their wellbeing and mental health.
Pereira and Lazic faced an onslaught of judgment and speculation after their video went viral
In Pereira's comment section, a number of users tagged an account belonging to Sam Rayner, a model with 322,000 TikTok followers and 944,000 Instagram followers. Rayner was wearing the same red dress in several older posts on her account, and commenters suggested that the hairstyle Lazic asked his fiancée to wear looked similar Rayner's in the posts.
This led users to suggest that Lazic was trying to "recreate" the model's look because he thought she was attractive.
"That would break my heart thinking he saw and memorized the exact look from another girl and was so unforgettable hes trying to make me into her," a top comment under Pereira's video, with 18,000 likes, said.
Users began to stitch and duet Pereira's video with theories about the couple, and soon commenters were spreading unfounded rumors about Lazic, saying that he follows Rayner on TikTok and that he has a "fantasy" about dating an Instagram model and wants to "cheat" on Pereira.
Lazic told Insider the rumors about him were entirely false. He said he had no idea who Rayner was when people were tagging her under the post, but when he looked up her account, he realized that she was one of the models wearing the dress on the White Fox website, where he bought it.
While he did take inspiration from the picture on the website when suggesting how Pereira should style her hair, he did not do this because he was interested in the model, he said, adding that he does not have an Instagram account, and does not follow the model on TikTok.
"At first it was funny. With the first 10, 20 comments, I was like, 'why are people freaking out?' If you go on the website, she's literally the first model that's wearing the dress, like, it's plain simple," he told Insider. "But once it got into the thousands of comments, I thought, 'OK, this is getting out of hand.'"
Pereira and Lazic said they were in "absolute shock" about the way people jumped to conclusions based on what was meant to be an "innocent" post.
On January 12 - eight days after the original post - Lazic filmed himself explaining that the rumors were untrue in a video he posted on Pereira's TikTok account, which seemed to resonate: the response to the video was positive and a lot of the speculation began to die down, but they were still reeling from what they went through.
The couple believes their ordeal points to a culture of mistrust that is prevalent on social media
Pereira and Lazic are not the first couple to have faced accusations about their relationship based on a social media post. In November, Insider spoke to college students Meagan Glesmann and Matthew Boyle who were met with a wave of online judgment when Glesmann posted a video about surprising Boyle at college.
Commenters suggested that Boyle looked "guilty" in the clip, and assumed he was cheating on Glesmann. They compared the clip to a similar TikTok that went hugely viral September 2021, where a man being met with a surprise visit from his girlfriend faced widespread accusations about his fidelity and quickly became known by the nickname "couch guy" due to where he was sitting in the video.
Pereira and Lazic think young social-media users are becoming increasingly suspicious of others, which leads to these types of pile-ons based on speculation around someone's behavior.
"This culture that thinks, 'everybody's cheating on everyone,' where there's no loyalty or foundational trust, I think it's really driven from social media," Lazic said.
"It's sad because the image that this generation has is that if someone does something sweet for you, there's always an ulterior motive to what that person is doing," Pereira added.
Both Pereira and Lazic said they experienced emotional damage as a result of the intense accusations and suspicion they dealt with.
Looking back on the experience of being nicknamed "the girl with the red dress" by TikTok viewers as a result of her video, Pereira said that becoming a main character and figurehead of online drama was emotionally confusing.
"If I'm being really honest, at first, it's exciting because you see your views go up. But then the hate starts rolling in, and you realize there's two realities to this," she said, adding, "We were fortunate enough to have each other through this situation, but I can only imagine what it would be like for someone who has to go through it alone."
Lazic told Insider that he previously thought it should be easy to ignore negative comments online, but this experience made him realize "that when you have thousands of people saying things about you, and saying things like, 'I can't believe you had a baby with this disgusting man,' it does get to you. I think it would get to any human being."
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider's Digital Culture team here.
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