Is the Rise of True Crime Ethical?

Is the Rise of True Crime Ethical?

The public has seen a rising obsession with true crime, from ruthless serial killers to unsolved murder cases and missing person cases. True crime cases that are popular on the internet are treated as if they’re fiction, with amateur internet sleuths attempting to find the perpetrator, often ending in false accusations. Although these crimes should be brought to light, to what extent does the true crime genre exploit, sensationalize, and profit off of these victims?

A popular form of media for the true crime genre is podcasts with series such as “Killer Queens”, “Murder, Mystery & Makeup”, and “My Favorite Murder” all talking in gruesome detail about innocent victims’ deaths. Host of “Murder Mystery & Makeup” Bailey Sarian does her makeup while cracking jokes and making light of an awful tragedy. Over time, avid true crime listeners can become desensitized to such stories. Listening daily about a person being brutally murdered can become another story to listen to while doing chores, going on a walk, or driving to school. To put into perspective how much true crime has risen over the past few years, according to InsiderRadio, there has been a 66% growth rate in true crime podcasts from 2019 to 2022, coupled with Youtube’s analytics showing that true crime content was viewed over 2 billion times in 2019. 

Podcasts like “My Favorite Murder” or “Murder with My Husband” create catchphrases and sell merchandise while making a generous profit off creating entertaining content about a person being murdered or missing. The trauma of having to relive one’s family member being brutally murdered is not a light topic, especially when still grieving. Internet sleuths on popular platforms, such as TikTok and Reddit, have discussed ongoing cases and created their theories. Ultimately, their tactics and their allegations could create false leads and detract from the investigation. Additionally, innocent people who were close to the victim could be pinned as suspects, which leads to internet harassment, and in extreme cases, even death threats. 

In 2022, a popular Netflix show called “Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” was released and quickly became popular. Viewers began to romanticize Dahmer and display sympathy for the cold-hearted serial killer. As fans glorified the show, it became less about providing information and more about entertaining viewers with Dahmer’s life. On top of that, none of the revenue the show made went to the families of victims. Tony Hughes was a victim of Dahmer in 1991 his mother Shirley Hughes’ explained to The Guardian “I don’t see how they can do that. I don’t see how they can use our names and put stuff like that out there.” Netflix didn’t ask the victims’ families if portraying them or their loved ones was okay. Rita Isabell, sister of Errol Lindsay, a victim of Dahmer, said Netflix did not contact her to give consent to the show even though there was a direct portrayal of her on the series. 

True crime has blurred the line between what is true and what is fiction. According to Georgia State University, “in a 2022 poll, half of Americans said they enjoy the genre of true crime, including 13% who call it their favorite genre.” As more Americans become invested in true crime, there is a high chance they will not get a realistic view of most cases. The next time you find yourself listening or watching true crime be careful of how desensitized you become from hearing the gorey details.

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