Online Sleuths Do More Harm Than Good

By Megan Hastings

Media Production Editor

Genres like true crime that depict fictional stories about murders or disappearances have always been popular for eliciting a morbid curiosity that fascinates viewers. Fictitious stories of murderous criminals captivated thousands who tried to solve mysteries by looking for clues or foreshadowing within a book, but somewhere during true crime’s rise to fame, the focus shifted. Tabloids reporting on real-life cases like the Lizzie Borden murders or the murder of Jon Bennet Ramsey replaced Agatha Christie novels in popularity. These cases and stories are used to entertain people and educate them. As viewers watch documentaries on the OJ Simpson case or TV shows about the life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, their understanding of forensic science, psychology, and legal proceedings deepens. However, the interest in real-life cases becomes an issue when amateurs in the fanatical audience attempt to assist the professional’s work. 

The recent case of the Idaho murders is just one example of true crime stories to shock the internet, with true crime sleuths from all over the world quickly jumping to analyze the case. On the night of Nov. 13, 2022, an intruder murdered four University of Idaho students in the house they shared. Police arrived after two surviving roommates found the victims, Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle, and Ethan Chapin. 

Within days, videos and discussion posts flooded the internet alongside hours of podcasts, with theories posted attempting to solve the “whodunit mystery” as if the case were a book or movie and not a real-life occurrence. Six weeks later, Idaho police arrested doctoral student Brain Kohberger and charged him with the murders. However, he wasn’t the suspect the internet predicted. 

A wave of victim blaming took over the internet, with people pointing fingers mostly at the victims’ roommate referred to as D.M. in the police affidavit. A hashtag on TikTok using the roommate’s legal name has over 36 million views and is full of outrageous claims, exaggerating the smallest details. One user even claims in her video, with thousands of likes, that the roommates from the house who survived the homicide, “just don’t sit right with [her]” because their “body language is off.” Hundreds of other videos make identical accusations by twisting statements and sensationalizing irrelevant evidence. Videos like this exploit the trauma of the victim’s friends and family, making scandalous allegations all for views.

Algorithms and viewers should not enable clout-chasing accounts to freely accuse people who think they know everything the police do. This rising popularity of true crime content and online “detective work” allows for an increase in false accusations and wrongful convictions are more common today than ever before. 

(Sources: USA Today, Rolling Stone)

Categories: Opinion

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