Homicides in Idaho show the cost of addiction to true crimes in the US

TThe public’s fascination with true crime has spawned endless docu-series, podcasts, and social media theories dedicated to notorious crimes and killers. But when an investigation is unfolding in real-time, this obsession — especially when cyber-sleuths are involved — can have dire consequences for real people.

Most recently, the murders of four University of Idaho students, who were found stabbed to death in an off-campus townhouse in the university city of Moscow, Idaho, became breeding grounds for misinformation, with conspiracy theorists and amateur “detectives” investigating the case further socially Media. On TikTok, the hashtag “Idaho Murders” — and its many iterations — has garnered more than a billion views, with thousands of users posting updates and asking for answers.

TikTok livestreams and videos debating various theories as to who might be responsible for the gruesome killings have spanned hours on the platform, particularly in the weeks leading up to the arrest of suspect Bryan Kohberger, May 28.

While high-profile cases can draw the attention needed to spread new tips, they can also put innocent people at risk and be the cause of much misinformation.

Fake theories, real people

University of Idaho professor Rebecca Scofield has been accused by TikToker Ashley Guillard (@ashleyisinthebookoflife) of involvement in the Idaho killings in a series of videos posted online. Scofield says the lies that have been spread about her have created security issues for her and her family.

Guillard, a self-proclaimed psychic who uses her abilities “to solve mysteries,” told her more than 115,000 followers on the app that Scofield was romantically involved with one of the victims and worked with another person to turn the murders into more than 50 cases of committing videos begin around November 17th.

Scofield served two cease and desist letters to Guillard, which were ignored even after police charged and arrested Kohberger on December 30. Scofield has since filed a lawsuit, citing emotional distress from the publicity Guillard caused.

Even though users on Guillard’s latest videos started telling her to stop posting videos about Scofield, they said things like “You’re still doing this?!” and “None of that happened” — previous posts where Guillard Scofield defamed, have garnered at least 2.5 million likes, according to the lawsuit.

Guillard declined an interview and did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement to TIME, Scofield’s attorney, Wendy Olson, said: “These untrue statements create safety concerns for the professor and her family. They also compound the trauma experienced by victims’ families and undermine law enforcement’s efforts to find those responsible to provide answers to families and the public.”

While Scofield was the only one to take legal action, several others linked to the case have been charged online. Guillard also accused an ex-boyfriend of victim Kaylee Goncalves of involvement in the crime. “Not only did he lose the love of his life,” his aunt told The New York post Officebut also “Half of America” ​​believes that he could be responsible for the murders.

A neighbor of the four University of Idaho students has also been wrongly accused by social media users. He told NewsNation that people were “reckless” when it came to getting information about his personal life. He added that he now carries a gun to get “that extra sense of security.”

“They have already contacted my friends and asked questions about me,” he said. “And who knows if anyone will go as far as confronting me personally.”

A double-edged sword

David Schmid, associate professor of English at the University of Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, says public interest in high-profile cases can certainly generate attention and new information that can help investigators solve a case, but also with high ones costs are involved.

In the case of the Idaho murders, Guillard is just one of many online personalities who have chosen to make allegations with little or no evidence.

On December 9, weeks before Kohberger was arrested in connection with the killings, Moscow police released a statement on the influx of information circulating online, saying they were “monitoring online activity” related to the case and were aware of the large crowd. the sharing of rumors and misinformation, as well as harassing and threatening behavior towards potentially involved parties.”

“Anyone who engages in threats or harassment in person, online or otherwise needs to understand that they could face criminal prosecution,” the department said in a Facebook post.

This is not to say that all involvement in true crimes is harmful. Bystanders who were in locations near Gabby Petito in the moments leading up to her disappearance in September 2022 uploaded TikToks, photos and videos of their interactions with her, helping police narrow their search efforts and eventually locate her body.

And in the Idaho case, the Moscow Police Department reports that as of Dec. 30, it had received more than 19,000 tips from the community that were integral to the arrest of Bryan Kohberger, according to CBS News. They continue to ask for more tips related to the arrest of the prime suspect.

Schmid suggests that the best of internet detective work – deep immersion in crime cases online – can be seen in projects like Serialan investigative journalism podcast whose first season focused on the case of Adnan Syed, who was found guilty of the 1999 murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee. Averaging more than 2 million listeners at the time of its release, series Popularity undoubtedly played a role in Syed’s eventual release last October.

However, investigating citizens into true crime can have dangerous implications. Serial, for example, was created by veteran journalists who took steps to verify facts and relay information in a way that minimizes harm. However, TikToker and others on social media often have little basis for their claims. However, with TikToks more than 1 billion users, they can reach a large number of people.

“[The internet] has a tremendous impact on enabling people who don’t normally have access to media influence to contribute,” Schmid told TIME. “In some cases, that’s been a very good thing, but like everything else, it’s a mixed bag.”

Schmid warns that the mass of information people have access to every day often leads to misinformation on a scale that is difficult to contain once published. And because there is a lack of trust in traditional information brokers such as the press and authorities, citizens have the same right to comment and investigation.

Schmid believes social media companies should be responsible for cleaning up false allegations and misinformation in cases like the University of Idaho murders. “Obviously the scale of the problem is such that you can never completely eliminate it. But I think in cases like the one you’re discussing, where the damage done is so egregious, I think deplatforming is a very good answer to that,” Schmid told TIME.

More must-reads from TIME

Contact us at [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *