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Has True Crime Gone Too Far?


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Has True Crime Gone Too Far?

After a TikToker publicly accused a professor of the Idaho University murders, the internet is coming down harshly on the true crime community yet again. Ashley Guillard claims to be a psychic and a tarot card reader on the social media platform. She alleged that history department chair Rebecca Scofield committed the murders because she had a romantic relationship with one of the victims. Scofield has now sued the TikToker for her baseless allegations. The brutal stabbings of four students shook the Idaho University on November 13. Since then, the case and its developments have gone viral in the online true crime community, with many taking it upon themselves to figure out what happened. What followed were a series of passionate speculations, with little regard for those atually affected by the horrific killings.

The true crime subculture boasts a massive network across several social media platforms, prominently YouTube, Reddit, TikTok and Instagram. Content creators have started channels to exclusively cover famed and lesser known murders, serial killings and assassinations. One quick search will lead you to subreddits for specific infamous cases or killers like Ted Bundy or The Zodiac Killer.

As most things do, it gets worse on Twitter. Young true crime enthusiasts run ‘fan accounts’ for their favourite serial killers, often idolising them or fantasising about them. People on TikTok have expressed sympathy for serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Richard Ramirez as well. It is a well known fact that during the latter’s trial, he received supportive letters from several female admirers and even married one of them. Although this is a small percentage of people, there is also heavy criticism against content creators who glamourise true crime cases without giving the victims the respect they deserve. Serial killers are seen as fascinating individuals to read and learn about. But in doing so, the experiences of their victims often go neglected. 

The true crime community has faced criticism for a while now, but 2022 was a particularly brutal year for true crime television. Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story became the subject of rage and boycott after viewers found out that the creators did not take consent from Dahmer’s victims’ families. Family members expressed that they were unhappy with the show’s treatment of the cases.

A still from ‘Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’.
Image Source: Netflix Tudum

2022 also saw the revival of the Casey Anthony case. In 2011, Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee. Despite the verdict, many people who followed the case closely believe that there is enough evidence to prove her guilt. This includes some media platforms who covered the story back when it happened. She lied repeatedly during the investigation, showed little care for her daughter and changed her story constantly. Peacock’s limited series, Casey Anthony: Where the Truth Lies, released in November 2022. It re-examines the events in fresh light. Casey accuses her father Lee and brother George of sexually abusing her as a child, and alleges their involvement in her daughter’s murder in her very first on-camera interview. Audiences did not respond well to the series. Many viewers believed it was a tasteless rehashing of the case to try and prove Casey’s innocence.

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It is true that criminal investigations and verdicts must be questioned in light of new evidence, techniques or perspectives. But creators must be cautious of the impact that true crime media has on public opinion. It can become a tool to draw both vilification and sympathy. The Twitter jury believes the Casey Anthony documentary bombed ridiculously at what it set out to achieve. Dahmer, on the other hand, catapulted Jeffrey into overnight stardom once again, nearly 30 years after his death. At the same time, it reopened wounds for the families of his victims. 

Whether it is a high budget Netflix original or a 90-second TikTok video, a huge responsibility comes with creating true crime content. The cases we study with wide-eyed fancy are real, traumatic experiences that have forever changed families and communities. We must acknowledge this in order to lend sensitivity to a genre that is highly glamorised and romanticised today. 

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