The rise of social media crime solvers

Being exposed to true crime media is seemingly inevitable as docu-series on Netflix are trending for millions to view, television networks formatted specifically for true crime stories are ever-present and social media users as young as preteens are dedicating their time to be “crime solvers,” even more so on TikTok.

Having the ability to stretch the truth or spread misinformation in an instant on platforms like TikTok can make it hard to separate the truth from false accusations. It’s easy to be drawn in by theories created by people with no real connection to the actual events with faulty background knowledge. These posts can mislead not only the public, but even authorities working on the case. More recently in the case of the murders of college students in Moscow, Idaho, people online theorizing about these cases have spread false claims while authorities actively investigate the murders.

Before Brian Kohberger’s arrest on Dec. 30 following a six-week investigation by Moscow Police, people came to their own conclusions, many of which went viral. According to an article by USA Today, some people blamed the surviving roommates and the owner of a food truck where some of the victims were last seen in public. Others accused murder victim Kaylee Gonclaves’ ex-boyfriend Jack DuCoer.

There are instances of social media users aiding in the arrest of murders and solving seemingly cold cases, as in the 2019 Netflix documentary “Don’t F**k With Cats.” By and large, however, social media users cause more harm than good by making false accusations that have real-life impacts.

One University of Idaho professor filed a lawsuit against self-proclaimed psychic tarot card reader Ashley Guillard, after Guillard posted a TikTok accusing the professor of being involved in the murders. Spreading misinformation like this can tarnish someone’s reputation and cause innocent people to lose their jobs, families and even their identity entirely.

With widespread access to social media, many people feel as though they have the ability to be a journalist or investigator, even though they aren’t trained to be one. It’s important to realize that true-crime cases involve real victims, survivors, families and professional investigators. False accusations, misinformation and their repercussions can’t be easily erased once they are posted online.

This extends beyond murder or true crime and into the personal lives of others. While it has become normal to post about one’s personal life, it’s important to remember that no one is entitled to more information, and it can be harmful to make assumptions or accusations about what is seen online.

Experts note that especially in cases of national stories and their spread on social media regarding crime, people develop parasocial relationships, which is a one-sided connection to an individual like a celebrity. Placing people in this position especially when involving crime deeply removes people from the reality of situations.

Social media allows for the extension of piecing things together, but it is important to recognize that these are people’s lives, deaths and never-ending trauma and that public speculation can contribute to detrimental effects on all individuals involved. The internet leads to a lack of humanity removed from empathy and sympathy for real situations and instead becomes a clout-chasing guessing game.