A few weeks back, a TikTok post of two female soldiers dancing to Cardi B’s “WAP” made the rounds on Twitter, prompting heated discussions about everything from issues on moonlighting and poor conduct to misogyny and sexism.
But these two soldiers were just a few of many — men and women — accused of posting “thirst trap” videos to TikTok.
For those who aren’t aware, Urban Dictionary defines “thirst trap” as “a sexy photograph or flirty message posted on social media for the intent of causing others to publicly profess their attraction. This is done not to actually respond or satisfy any of this attraction, but to feed the posters ego or need for attention.”
This phenomenon has made its way onto the TikTok video-sharing platform in the form of 15- to 60-second videos, and even more specifically into the platform’s military subculture. And while the women seem to take the most heat for sharing “provocative” content, there certainly is no shortage of male service thirst trapping.
A soldier using the name John Bland, who goes by the handle @notohkayjohn on TikTok, is perhaps one of the most infamous military TikTok users. His account primarily features him partially dressed in uniform, staring off seductively while music plays in the background. In some of the more risqué posts, however, he can be seen suggestively grabbing his crotch or tugging at his underwear.
Bland has 5.1 million followers to date, but he’s not the only one who uses TikTok this way.
A purported Marine Reservist, Garrett Nolan, who posts as @garett__nolan, shares similarly seductive TikTok videos. He boasts a whopping 6.3 million followers.
There are an unknown number of service members across the platform in uniform thirsting, dancing, working out and sharing their life stories despite the late 2019 ban of the Chinese-made app by the Pentagon, Army and Navy.
However, as it turns out, the ruling on TikTok stands that individual service members are technically free to use to the platform in non-work capacities. The ban only extends to formal military entities connected to a chain of command or formal military group, Army Col. Joe Buccino, spokesman for XVIII Airborne Corps told Military Times.
“With regard to conduct on TikTok, it’s the same as conduct on any other platform,” he said. “The governing document is under regulation 600-20, which is understandably vague on this matter.
However, Buccino notes, “A good way of thinking about this is if you would not say it in front of formation, you should not say it on social media.”
The Army’s social media handbook in particular embraces a three-pronged approach when it comes to individual soldiers posting on social media in general: Think, type and post.
“The U.S. Army defines online conduct as the use of electronic communications in an official or personal capacity that is consistent with U.S. Army Values and standards of conduct. It is important that all Soldiers know that once they have logged on to a social media platform, they still represent the U.S. Army,” the guide says. “Online misconduct is a term that describes unacceptable or improper behavior through the use of technology.”
But whether or not “thirst trap” posts in uniform mark of a violation of that policy is, as of yet, unclear.
Still, some on Twitter feel very strongly that these videos are detrimental to good order and conduct.
“Honestly I find all these sensual tik-toks weird and slightly predatory but in uniform????” wrote user @_emilyisokay. “Shoulda stayed in the drafts.”
Controversy about military members sharing content on TikTok is growing, not just because of the thirst trap issue, but other concerns as well.
Earlier this week, the Army launched an investigation into 2nd Lt. Nathan Freihofer, a soldier with XVIII Airborne Corps, after he told an anti-semitic joke on TikTok. His account has since disappeared. Pending the investigation, Freihofer was suspended of all leadership responsibilities, according to Buccino.
While some are pleased to see swift action being taken, not everyone agrees that Freihofer did anything wrong.
Fellow soldier and TikTok influencer Tristin Morstad took to the platform to defend the lieutenant, saying that the joke was merely “dark humor.” Morstad claims he and few others are under investigation from “Big Army” as well as Freihofer for their TikTok content.
“It is a witch hunt, they are watching all of us,” he said.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.