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Is the True Crime Community Exploitative?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The genre of true crime has always fascinated the public eye. Stemming back to the book that allegedly kicked off this community, In Cold Blood, true crime has cemented its spot in pop culture. From books to podcasts, TV shows, documentaries, YouTube, etc., there is full access to the thousands of horrific cases upon people in society. Unfortunately, this also means there are people making money off of the murders of real people who lived real lives, whose lives are shortened to a 30-minute Murder, Makeup and Mystery Monday YouTube video. If you’re getting a sponsorship off the video/podcast and the money is not going to the victims, it’s exploitative on some level. For me, it’s the principle—someone’s loss/death is your paycheck, which is a hard pill to swallow. 

Yes, there is the argument that more people learn more about the crimes committed against the victims and can spread awareness and resources with this access. Family members reach out to people who have made big platforms on retelling true crime cases to get traction on their loved one’s cases. There is no shame in that, and it is understandable why the families do this. However, to me, especially recently, I have to ask whether the modern true crime community is going about reporting and retelling these cases ethically. 

Simply put, no. 

Has true crime always been exploitative? Yes. However, reporting victims’ stories in shows like Dateline or Crime Watch is staggeringly different from the boom in podcasts and YouTube platforms over this content post-2010. It’s a blessing and a curse. Before widespread internet access, those who wanted to research had to read long court documents, books and news articles, albeit biased as all media tend to be. Then, perhaps there was the watching of the trial, either live streaming from court or clips from news outlets. However, you will never get the scope of the victim’s case in a 30-minute video (not even in an hour-long video, two-parter, etc.). These videos are a stepping stone into research that viewers can/should choose to explore beyond. 

The issue is that YouTube will let you post anything, sans certain words and phrases and crime scene photos containing gore and blood. There is no fact-checking, no media laws, no permission rights from families, no accountability. You could lie by omission or commission, and if your platform only watches these videos in the background or does not do research, they’ll buy into it. How can someone’s murder story become just background noise in another’s life? Is it because there is this mentality at the end of the day of “It could never happen to me”?

It’s morally enticing and I don’t have a strong opinion on if it’s wrong because I still watch true crime on YouTube, alas considerably less than I used to and more documentary-styled videos on platforms like Hulu and Netflix. I encourage all people interested in the genre to go beyond the simple video and participate in the resources that help those who become victims of violence rather than letting one person’s tragedy just be a quick entertaining moment of the day. 

Writer and Lover of all Media
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