January 2021

Safety Call: How one Beaufort resident went TikTok viral and saved lives in the process

Author: Barry Kaufman

They are only known by the TikTok handles, but each of them has a story to tell. One who goes by @noelanijanglee was walking after dark when she felt a presence. Turning to see someone following her, she pulled up a video she’d seen earlier, one of many marked with the hashtag #safetycall.

In the dark, her phone was the only light. The face shining forth from her screen was that of Beaufort resident Mendy Perdew. As Perdew spoke, carrying on half of a conversation that has been shared with millions, noelenijanglee improvised the other half.

“It’s pretty dark. Hold the phone out so I can see,” recited the voice from her phone. She complied, waving the phone pointedly toward her pursuer so that Perdew could “see” the surroundings. And with that, the pursuer peeled off from the chase. The 18-year-old TikToker was safe.

She’s not alone. Another user based in Singapore, who goes by the handle @omgits_her_, warded off a potential stalker at a bus stop just after midnight by playing Perdew’s “safety call” video. “Thank you so much!!! I think I could have been robbed or worse!!!” she commented. Another, Ms. America, saved the calls to her phone and had her younger sisters do the same after being stalked by a co-worker after dark.

The premise of the calls is simple: adopting her best “strict-mom” voice, Perdew has staged dozens of mock phone calls, stringing along conversations with users to keep them talking through open ended questions. The result, for those caught alone after dark with unwanted attention, is the illusion of someone on the other line.
“I’m an anal-retentive parent, so I’ve had these conversations with my kids all the time,” Perdew said with a laugh. “I’ve played these for my daughter, and she said, ‘That sounds just like you.’”

While it has since become a global phenomenon, the initial safety call came about because, in Perdew’s words, “I’m lazy and didn’t wake up in time.”

She’s being a bit harsh on herself. As a heavy sleeper, she was well under one night when she missed a late-night phone call from a worried friend. “I have a friend who’s a dog walker, and she walks in a lot of dark places at all hours of the night,” she said. “I’ve missed a couple of calls where she just wanted to be on the phone with someone so it didn’t sound like she was wandering in the dark alone.”

Perdew filmed the first video for her friend to have as a backup and then sent it to a few of her other friends just to be safe. And if it weren’t for the growing toxicity of Facebook, it would have died there.

“On Facebook, everyone is so mean,” Perdew said. “I didn’t want to see all of that anymore. I went on TikTok just to see people dance and be positive … I uploaded the video thinking it will help the maybe 20 followers I had. And then it blew up.”

She uploaded the video in June, and by July those 20 followers had grown to 200,000. What began as a somewhat popular video with 500 views has snowballed, amassing 18.6 million views as this story was being written.

“I made more, and then people started requesting it in other languages. I would post something like, ‘Does anyone speak Dutch? German? It went all over the place,” she said.

You’ll now find #safetycall videos in a slew of different languages, including Spanish, Italian and even Farci. Even English-language TikTok users have launched their own versions with regional accents from Australian to New Englander. There are even closed-captioned videos for the hearing impaired and a particularly ingenious one that ends with Perdew asking, “Can you put on your earbuds? I can’t hear you,” allowing the viewer to keep a conversation going as long as necessary.

While hers was the first and fastest-growing of the Safety Call videos, Perdew credits the global hivemind of TikTok with making it a movement. “They’re the ones who started spreading it to other countries,” she said. “All of a sudden, you had men and women of every race and culture agreeing that … we all have the ability to take one minute to help strangers. That was so cool.”

The great masses of TikTok have also helped inspire the unique spins on the Safety Call video that she’s put onto subsequent entries. “I’m a regular person, so trying to think of things like this is tricky. I suck at acting,” she said.

What she’s great at, however, is improvisation. Which came in handy when her viral fame landed her on Good Morning America, and she had to think on her feet with the entire world watching.

“We were just about done [with the interview]; I think I had about 15 minutes left and then Boom, the power goes out,” she said. “I had to do rest of the interview over by the window to keep some light on my face. By the grace of God, I had a full charge on my tablet. All I could do was laugh.”

With TikTok fame has also come the opportunity to serve as an influencer. Perdew recently partnered with Invisiwear, smart jewelry that acts as a covert panic button in case of an emergency. “It’s not some big company; it’s just two ladies who started it because one of them had been in a situation where she needed to call 911,” Perdew said. The company sent her a necklace to demonstrate for fans, and even a few of Perdew’s followers who had similar harrowing tales.

It’s not the only way Perdew has given back. As a TikTok content creator, she gets compensation from the app based on the popularity of her content as well as regular cash gifts from fans. Rather than spend it, she pays it all forward.

“We set up on Venmo so we could randomly select people to send a Christmas blessing to. This week I’ve given away $20. I know it’s not going to make a big impact on Christmas, but if it renews faith in humanity, it’s enough,” she said. “2020 has been hard.”

Thanks to Perdew and the movement she helped spark, it’s been a little easier for anyone who finds themselves alone in the dark in need of a friend.

“It was just a random post,” Perdew said. “I didn’t think anything would happen.”

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