True crime: Intriguing hobby or active hazard?

Photo courtesy of Brandon Anderson, Flickr

For the past few years, true crime has become a popular trend in modern media. Podcasts, Netflix and YouTube are just some of the hot spots for true crime content.

Bailey Sarian, popular for her “Murder Mystery and Makeup Mondays” series, has 5.65 million followers on YouTube. “Morbid: A True Crime Podcast” and “Last Podcast on The Left” are just some of the endless options for true crime podcasts.

Recently, Netflix has been a popular streaming site for true crime documentaries. “American Murder: The Family Next Door” is Netflix’s most watched true crime documentary with over 52 million views.

I too enjoy listening to true crime podcasts like “Generation Why” or “The Opportunist” and tuning into the occasional Netflix true crime documentary or series.

However, the recent and tragic murder of van-life influencer Gabby Petito has started a very tough and self-reflecting conversation about the public's obsession with true crime.

Isaac West, author of “The Serial Effect: True Crime and Contemporary American Culture” and associate professor at Vanderbilt University, said in an interview with Vice, “In most cases, one of the things people want out of the narrative is a sense of closure, and so in many cases, the reason why people participate is in the hopes that they’ll be able to bring justice to a particular victim or see that justice was rendered of the perpetrator.”

TikTok was flooded with videos about Petito. At first they covered basic information about her, such as who she was and where she was last seen. Soon people began to look into her boyfriend, Brian Laundre, and his involvement based on the circumstances of the case.

Then the trend shifted to searching through Petito’s social media posts for subliminal messages. An article written by Whitney Vasquez for Radar covered how people are questioning if the last few posts on Petito’s Instagram were made by her, as certain aspects of her appearance differed.

The people who make these posts or comments have good intentions and hope to provide information relevant for figuring out what happened. The sad truth, however, is that internet sleuths do not know what events took place leading up to her death.

Speculation is fine, but trying to bring attention to every little detail in what Petito posted on her social media leads to people sharing misinformation.

The constant presence of Petito on social media has also raised a bigger question, where is this outcry for missing people of color? According to the National Crime Information Center, 34 percent of missing women in 2020 were black where they make up only 15 percent of the female population.

Lauren Cho, who has been missing since June 28 of this year, also disappeared while traveling across the country with her partner. She was last seen in the Yucca Valley and Morongo Valley area in California. Her case has received barely any news coverage, only a few social media posts about her disappearance.

Journalist Erika Marie Rivers runs her own website, Our Black Girls, where she writes about missing black girls and women who are ignored by the mainstream media. In an interview with NPR, Rivers said, “I think when we bring that awareness, especially when it comes to Indigenous women and with black women, and we’re like, ‘Hey, we exist as well,’ It’s not to say stop searching for that white woman. It’s like, search for our women as much as you do anybody else and make sure that whatever energy that you place into one case is the same energy that you place into others.”