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Internet Sleuths: A Look At Self-Proclaimed Detectives

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Texas chapter.

The internet- a vast land that holds opportunity for all who take part in it. People post their lives on social media, inviting others into their worlds and producing the feeling of a community for all to enjoy. While this is all fun, it takes a turn when information posted on the internet can be used to solve a crime.

Internet Sleuths are a growing group of individuals who use to internet to solve various crimes and make connections based on clues found within recent social media posts and other online material. Keep in mind, these are not actual detectives. People pick up this so-called ‘hobby’ because it interests and fascinates them- they are most likely in no way professionally trained or have any experience solving crime in the real world.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are the most popular platforms in regards to searching for clues and making claims publicly. People can post what they find online and in turn, others who agree with them or wish to join them can create a community of their own dedicated to a specific case.

The Netflix documentary “Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer” showcases the lengths these independent sleuths are willing to go when it comes to finding highly dangerous individuals. In this documentary, a Facebook group dedicates a large amount of time and effort to catching Luka Magnotta, a serial killer who had been continuously posting YouTube videos to taunt those who were looking for him.

Members of the Facebook group pick apart every single object in the videos, from the bedspread to the type of outlet in the wall. Normal, everyday people were spending 16 hours a day researching different types of doorknobs to find just one clue as to where Magnotta was located. While they spent the day working at their nine-to-fives and spending time with their family, at night they traversed the internet and clocked into a different kind of job.

It is both fascinating and unsettling, to commit such a large amount of time focused on solving a crime that in no way personally affects you. The natural curiosity that comes with being human could play a large factor in this- we just can’t help ourselves. The internet allows a large amount of information to be posted and shared, making investigating easier and more accessible for most of the general public.

The recent Gabby Petito murder became a largely covered story within the past month. An influencer herself, Petito posted various photos and videos on social media that led these modern-day detectives to try and search for any clues that could point toward what happened before she went missing. Internet Sleuths were on the case, intensely dissecting Petito’s old social media posts on Instagram. They came to the conclusion that Petito’s ex-boyfriend and main suspect of the crime, Brian Laundrie, was recycling some of Petito’s old posts because they did not fit the ongoing theme of photos she had recently been posting.

Whether or not this conclusion is true has yet to be proven.

While the efforts to pry into the lives of others and solve crimes through social media have been helpful, it begs the question of whether or not it’s appropriate. Imagine being the Petito family and having thousands of random individuals without qualifications invading your daughter’s personal life and making major conclusions about a situation they have no involvement in.

A blog post by Pumphrey Law in September 2021 mentioned that these self-proclaimed detectives do not have to abide by any laws or protocols, meaning that they could potentially be engaging in unethical or illegal activities. Confidentiality and privacy are still important even when professionals are doing their own investigations. It becomes an issue when these sleuths pry too far into someone’s personal life without permission.

These individuals could just be doing it because they are bored. They may not have any real emotional attachment to solving the crime and instead, just want something to do on a Tuesday night or that might bring them an ounce of fame. These families who have lost loved ones would not want the help and support of these types of people.

Internet Sleuths may be trying to do the world a favor, but are they actually doing more harm than good?

Ameera Ozzie is currently a senior attending the University of Texas at Austin. She is a Public Relations major who enjoys learning about all things social media-related and keeping up with entertainment news. With dreams and aspirations of working with high-fashion companies on their Public Relations teams, Ameera hopes to make an impact on the world no matter what she is doing.