is true crime ethical?

is true crime ethical?
a cnn op writes that the true crime phenomenon is at a turning point -- the backlash against netflix’s jeffrey dahmer tv series shows that audiences are finally calling out problematic aspects of true crime content. so is our obsession with true crime ethical?
  • netflix’s “dahmer -- monster: the jeffrey dahmer story” is incredibly popular, but also getting a lot of backlash
  • it has the same issues as many true crime shows, like glamorizing murderers and not contacting victims’ family members -- and ppl are finally noticing
  • true crime will never really go away, and that’s ok, but hopefully we can consume it more responsibly
likewise, in august, the kiely rodni disappearance made national headlines. sfgate reported that desktop detectives harassed her (underage) friends, flooded the internet with conspiracy theories, and wasted investigators’ time
  • the youtube true crime conspiracy industry is terrible -- it exploits tragedy for clicks
  • it’s even worse in this case bc they’re exploiting minors, and spreading kiely’s friends’ names around for ppl online to speculate about
  • investigators have to follow up on all tips they get. so desktop detectives calling in w/ debunked online conspiracy theories just wastes time and resources
but the habit could be hard to kick. my favorite murder is one of the most popular podcasts around. the new republic says it’s pretty messed up. it glorifies both law enforcement and the justice system, and features way grisly murder cases with a tone of flippancy
  • they warn their listeners to “stay sexy and not get murdered”
  • in reality, most homicide victims are black men -- a demographic not well-represented in their listeners
  • it tends to glorify law enforcement and the justice system in a time where criminal justice reform is a popular topic
check out mfm here
  • there are over 300 episodes!
so what’s with the obsession? nbc news thinks there are 2 main factors at play: escapism and control
  • talking about and acknowledging someone else’s pain can make you feel less helpless
  • true crime can help people deal w/ their own fears in the world
  • people have created communities around true crime that help them feel seen and supported
mashable says this phenomenon isn’t new. humans have always been obsessed with the morbid. but this recent wave of true crime affects real people -- sometimes in good ways, sometimes bad
  • true crime content was around as early as the 16th century
  • the genre has grown considerably in the last 10 years
  • although it’s hard to tell just how much bc of the different mediums -- tv, books, news articles, facebook groups, podcasts, etc
  • these representations of real crimes can have some pretty complicated implications for victims, families, and the justice system
this death worker agrees. true crime has brought about some great things but it’s also caused a lot of damage
  • true crime media does not make you safer
  • death work is a form of activism and consuming true crime is a form of privilege
  • consider contributing to prevent crime instead of consuming it!
the-peak is less grey about the whole thing: true crime doesn’t respect the victims’ families and their wishes. as it stands now, it’s really bad
  • the genre needs more empathy
  • the problem is that people view these stories as fictions and do not take into account the humanity of the victims
  • true crime forces people affected by these cases to relive the trauma
here’s a tiktok from a family member of a victim, showing her frustration with the true crime industry
    ashley flowers, host of the “crime junkie” podcast, knows true crime raises serious ethical questions. but she’s trying to strike the right balance between entertainment and advocacy -- elle mag
    • crime junkie donates money to causes trying to solve crimes, and flowers volunteers her time too
    • they only want to cover stories that have some real value -- like raising awareness or helping the investigation
    • it’s about balancing. w/o their advocacy work, they’d just be “exploiting trauma for profit”. but you need the entertainment too, to get ppl to care
    along with true crime content, there’s been a rise in “desktop detectives” or internet sleuths. these people insert themselves into the narrative of the crime to “help” solve cold case crimes. they’re often just a nuisance
    • true crime asks the audience their opinion on the outcomes of a case -- inviting people to involve themselves
    • the genre has been branded as a form of activism and social justice
    • there needs to be some serious thought before deciding to “go behind the yellow tape” of true crime cases -- actions have consequences
    in january, the atlantic wrote that a set of murders in idaho had quickly turned into true crime content fodder: online sleuths created content that dehumanized the tragedy. definitely not ethical
    • in wake of the murder of college students in idaho, true crime fans took to social media to try and solve the case w/o any real evidence
    • some users even took to publicly accusing ppl of the crime that the police had determined were innocent
    • true crime content creators didn’t have the incentive to get the facts straight. they had the incentive to get views and clicks, leading to dramatic theories that damaged ppl’s reputation
    but maybe desktop detectives aren’t so bad! these internet sleuths helped name a jane doe cold case and brought answers to a family about a woman’s unknown fate
    • amateur genealogists helped name “lavender doe”, a woman who was found in 2006
    • dana lynn dodd’s identity was confirmed 12 years after she was murdered
    • her family never knew what happened to her -- now they have answers
    and rightasrain.org thinks telling stories about murder and death is ok: it’s a safe way to process negative emotions and can be empowering
    • there is a cathartic aspect to listening to true crime
    • it’s not an inherently bad genre
    • just make sure it’s not impacting your mental health and that you are not perpetuating victim blaming
    lifehacker: true crime is a murky topic. . . but if done for the right reasons, it can have a positive impact on the family of victims by telling the victim’s story
    • it’s okay to be interested but focus on the facts of the case instead of diving into the theories
    • remember these are *real* people, not just characters in a story
    • “sleuth responsibly”
    • keep asking questions and do something good w/ your knowledge on the topic
    want a fake crime show about true crime? it’s out there! there’s a fictional tv show on hulu -- “only murders in the building” -- that explores the ethics of true crime podcasters and internet sleuths
    • the show pokes fun at the true crime genre and the people involved in creating and consuming it
    • it’s an exaggerated show but it gets at the ethics of true crime, the humanity of those involved, the ads/politics of the shows, the crazy fan bases, and more
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