What Are You Really Watching?
As college students in the digital age, we are all privy to the strange nooks and crannies of social media, and the off-putting phenomenons that develop as a result of them. While living in the dawn of social media has some enjoyable advantages, accessibility to various forms of content on all sites, as well as providing a means of communication to people across the world, there are dangerous forces at play that have come to seriously stunt humanities collective empathy. I am referencing, of course, the influx in true crime related films, television series, and YouTube videos that are being advertised to the public with no age restriction required to indulge in them.
The True Crime Community, which originated on forum websites such as Reddit, is a fanbase dedicated to relaying information about real crimes and unsolved cases to the public. There are multiple internet forums created for the sole belief that internet sleuths can solve cold cases, and thus provide a sense of closure to the ongoing questions associated with the uncertainty of unsolved crimes.
However, the TCC is not in large part as heroic as it may seem. Often, members will insert themselves into criminal cases, thus interfering with law enforcements work to legitimately solve it. This can prove detrimental to the development of the case, as internet sleuths theorizing about what may have occurred during a particular crime can grow popular, and cause mass public panic. Usually, this happens as a result of dominant creators in the community exploring case details in a desensitized and ignorant manner, knowing it has potential to garner millions of viewers.
Popular True Crime content creators include Stephanie Soo, a YouTube creator known for her cooking and eating videos, in which she reads the details of various murders to the audience. Her content has been heavily criticized for its impassive attitude towards the cases she focuses on, often taking breaks in reading to joke with her collaborator or talk about the food she is eating. Soo’s thumbnails have also been controversial, as her usual methodology is to include the victims (both children and adults), the murderer, the food and herself in the shot.
I can remember staring at her thumbnail for a video she made that covered the tragic murder case known as “The Girl in the Suitcase” and feeling an overwhelming sense of anger towards it. From the initial photo alone, it was apparent that this is not about the poor young girl she is describing the final moments of. If it was, Soo could’ve stripped down the theatricality of her content— no more elaborate, wacky foods, and faux serious faced photos of herself directly in the middle of the screen. But in the dawn of technology, where narcissism seems to be a social normalcy and one can get famous for doing virtually nothing but speaking about deceased victims, Soo’s videos obtained millions of views each post. I think there is danger in that— in the blasé attitude generations are beginning to have about real life situations.
This is not to say that I do not see the benefits of True Crime content. In fact, I acknowledge that the TCC has created a much needed sense of awareness for many young people and their surroundings. It has provided sincere self defense suggestions, that are especially important for college students living on their own for the first time. I have also been astounded by the TCC interest in educating women about the possible signs of being targeted by sex traffickers. Yet, the individuals that involve themselves with the True Crime Community for the sake of becoming famous or making revenue from the content will always drag the community down in the eyes of the public.
If society continues to consume True Crime Content as entertainment rather than educational, the existing rift between media and reality will continue to grow; eventually encompassing all shreds of compassion and empathy in younger generations. The community, now tainted and flawed, will not continue to grow if people do not indulge in the disrespectful videos and television series being released. It is a debate of supply and demand— the more people who engage with this specific content, the more videos will be made that contribute to a warped and highly concerning movement that diminishes the horror that victims have endured.
I urge you, next time you find your finger hovering over the play button of a piece of bastardized true crime content, one click away from seeing the horror of real life from the safety of your home— pause, and think of the victims. Think of the lives they lived, or could have lived if it had not been cut too short. Think of their families, and the smothering weight of the grief they can never escape no matter how many years have passed, because people are appeased and entertained by the loss of their loved ones. Now, do you feel like watching that video?
Susie DiPietro is a third year English major at Holy Family University. Her interests include vintage fashion and music, film, and writing poetry.