The true crime community is one which spins tragedy into entertainment.
Through its constantly expanding online popularity, true crime has effectively monetized transgressions for public consumption, with the most heinous among them bringing in the highest level of profitability.
We know who benefits from it: the Podcasters, YouTubers, and online writers who make a living off of telling others’ stories. Do we know who pays for it?
The recent disappearance of Gabby Petito provides insight into the damages caused by attitudes and behaviors fostered within the true crime community. Petito, a 22-year-old woman declared as missing person, has quickly become the prized subject of discussion within online true crime circles. Her open, extensive social media presence is an undeniable factor behind her case’s popularity.
Through haphazerdly analyzing the differences in her posts, those active in the true crime community are using her tragedy as a live game of murder mystery. Quickly, recklessly spun theories attempting to solve her disappearance are muddying the waters.
Mass speculation about why, where, how, who, and what happened to Gabby Petito is easily justified when the harm caused by such is ignored in hopes that a completely unqualified, detached stranger on the internet may crack the case. This is what true crime tells us is possible. This is how the worst event of someone’s life may become meaningless chatter for millions of people-- a victim’s every move, assumed characteristics, and guesstimated flaws scrutinized.
Words said on the internet have just as much of an impact as words exchanged face-to-face. The online world is not a different reality. It does not grant us permission to speak without consequences. Words are going to be read or heard, but the possibility of the listener’s identity opens up monumentally when posted on a public forum.
Gabby Petito’s community can and will see all that is posted about her. To these people, she is not a trend or a mystery to be blown apart. She is a person. These people, those left behind to pick up the pieces, may be victims of the true crime community, as well.
How does a creator, a YouTuber for example, within the true crime community explain their career to a person such as this?
Do they mention the ad revenue they receive after recording themselves discussing the intricate details of someone’s ending, someone who mattered, as if they weren’t even real? Do they tell them their loved one’s death is the foundation on which they’ve built their life?
In the world of true crime, everyone is a star detective. Brutal, unspeakable acts of violence are something which is interesting for an hour and then turned off. It offers a casual, uncommitted glimpse into a black hole of suffering that is real to someone. Something to listen to on our commutes. A blip in our day.
This community masquerades as perfectly beneficial, something selfless and non-destructive. In a very small percentage of cold cases, discussion has warmed them up again. The travellers who identified Gabby Petito’s van recognized it from the internet. In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, uninformed speculation does more harm than good, only reopening a wound and leaving it for someone else to deal with.
The subjects of true crime stories are not fictionalized. They are victimized repeatedly: once when their trauma is experienced, and again every time they become the subject of half-hearted public curiosity. The monetization and digital exploration of their suffering is an incredibly dull stop on the ride of crime entertainment.