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Sensitivity in the times of #truecrime TikTok

Lessons to be learned from the Idaho murder case


Trigger warning: This blog mentions death, murder, and violence which might be upsetting to some readers.


Around two months ago, I watched the show “Only Murders in the Building”, a fictional series about ‘true crime’ enthusiasts who create a podcast to find the culprit behind a murder in their building. When I got to thinking and reading more about true crime, I fell down the rabbit hole of social media accounts dedicated solely to this topic, specifically on TikTok.


Real murders were being ‘investigated’ by accounts claiming to be experts about what “truly went on the night of...”


When it came to the devastating case of Madeline McCann, for example, people shared ‘conspiracy theories’ about suspects, often pointing fingers at the girl’s parents. During the investigation of the murder of Gabby Petito last year, theories emerged on social media about the reasons behind her disappearance, with followers trying to help the search by examining details of Gabby’s Instagram account.


To understand the impact of true crime videos on TikTok, I decided to dig a little deeper, and tried to understand how many people truly watch these videos.

The numbers shocked me.


As of January 16th, 2023, the hashtag “#truecrimetiktok” has 7.2 billion views. That’s right, not a million, a billion. This begs the question, what about true crime makes it such a highly viewed genre on social media, and why?


The glaring problem is that, unlike the show I watched, this is not fiction. These are very real victims, who fell prey to heinous crimes; they are devastated families trying to fight for justice and find the truth. The last thing they need are accounts claiming to know even what the police and investigators, by profession, didn’t know.


And following the events on November 13th, 2022 in Moscow, Idaho, this became even more problematic.



What followed this terrible quadruple killing was a flurry of TikTok videos being created, with theories being circulated, along with detailed photos, and videos of the home where the murders took place.


Arguably paying little attention to the grief of their parents and families, some true crime enthusiasts described their theories on whom they thought the murderer was. When I typed the keywords “Idaho murder case” on TikTok, I could see multiple videos of the case, each more disturbing than the last. As of January 10th 2023, “#idahomurder” has 355.3 million views, and “#idahomurdertheory” has 143.5 million views.


Numerous videos were released where people claimed that the ex-boyfriend of one of the deceased was “suspicious” and somehow involved, even though law enforcement had made no mention of it. Questions were raised about why the two surviving roommates escaped unharmed, and videos began to speculate whether they were perhaps involved in the murder. Without paying heed to the fact that the survivors were going through a life-changing traumatic experience, they were put “on trial” by baseless accounts on social media.


What’s even worse, after a suspect was arrested on December 30th, 2022, people created fake profiles, pretending to be him on Instagram. These fake profiles then followed the Instagram accounts of the deceased, and numerous videos published this information, without fact-checking the validity of these accounts, and claiming that perhaps the suspect knew the victims, and could have been stalking them online.


In some of the instances I have come across, it feels as though certain accounts have paid no attention to what the parents and families might have been going through during this incredibly hard time in the investigation. Some accounts have gone on to share any information they can — regardless of how disturbing or insensitive it is.

At this point, I’d like to say that I don’t mean to bash each and every #truecrime account. Some purely state the facts and updates of the case, as they are released by the press; they are unbiased and don’t speculate, but rather report. They seemingly do this to increase awareness about the case, rather than to go viral on social media. Getting fact-checked information from these accounts is fine, though I would recommend also visiting official and reputable sources, to cross-check the validity of news.

Being interested in true crime and current affairs is extremely common. In fact, a 2010 study found that women tend to be more interested in true crime, especially relating to cases that described how victims escaped, and those that provided an insight into the criminal’s motives. I myself have watched docuseries on Netflix from this genre. What sets these shows, books, and podcasts apart is the fact that numerous professionals are behind their creation. Journalists and investigators have worked on these cases for years and hence have provided accurate and unbiased opinions. They’ve all gone through adequate checks and approvals to make sure sensitive topics such as these are released in an appropriate manner.

In contrast, the accounts I am referring to here share conspiracy theories of what they believe went on, pointing fingers at people not mentioned by law enforcement, and putting them through a media trial. It is these accounts that make the genre of true crime problematic and overshadow the accounts that want to put out genuine, accurate information. Unfortunately, anyone has a platform to share information very quickly and widely, and it is sometimes difficult to unearth what is accredited and what is not.

As consumers of this content, it’s important that we don’t inadvertently promote problematic accounts by sharing their content with our friends. It’s our responsibility to not become part of the speculation in a terribly tough time like this. While everyone deserves to know the truth, it’s important that this is actually fact-checked, and accurate, and not simply a theory from a TikTok account.

Most importantly, we must remember that these are very real victims, who suffered a horrific crime. These are very real parents of the victims, wanting to make sure their child gets the justice they deserve. These are very real survivors who, every day, are trying to heal from the trauma they have faced.


 

If you feel affected by this case or have been a victim of a violent crime, please consider reaching out for professional support.


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