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Image / Living / Culture

Let’s not kid ourselves that online sleuthing is anything other than content that exploits


by Amanda Cassidy
26th Sep 2021
Let’s not kid ourselves that online sleuthing is anything other than content that exploits

The case of Gabby Petito is at risk of adding to the 'pretty white girl missing' syndrome, writes Amanda Cassidy

Amusing ourselves to death.

Neil Postman, American author warned of this eventuality, where everything from politics to education becomes entertainment. Already the Gabby Petito case shows that crime-gathering and sleuthing is now defined as nothing more than ‘content’.

But that doesn’t come as a surprise – that’s the way the online world moves and evolves.

But what hasn’t evolved is our contineous obsession with pretty and usually white women whose lives are cut short. A savage end to a seemingly “perfect” life.

Perfection

An obsession with fallen angels.

Being perceived differently —(is there a more apt way to describe the experience of being beautiful?) is now in death as it is in life.

Those who are perceived as more attractive, having more successful lives – they get ahead in life too, but when it comes to their deaths, there’s a fascination, an obsession with fallen angels.

Experts describe it as the beauty premium – and as with most thing, the gap widens between ethnicities. We might not like it, but it exists. And that’s what is driving the Petito obsession.

“They just choose which cases they want to do”

Arc

Petito’s case has made news headlines and gone viral online, with people everywhere trying to solve the case themselves. Of course, adding to the intrigue, Petito and her missing boyfriend left a large social media footprint as our online accounts documented their cross-country travels.

Cosey Hill’s 16-year-old disappeared from near her home in Missouri in 2008. Watching the Petito case unfolding she said it was hard not to feel resentful.

‘When you report your loved one missing, you hear, ‘We’ll try to get someone on this,’ and they act as if they don’t have enough manpower to do it,” she told ABC news.

“But as you can see, they can get enough manpower to do it,” she said. “They just choose which cases they want to do.”

Unprecedented

Of course, the poor victim in this is the ideal target for social media detectives. Gabby was 22, a similar demographic as most TikTok users. The amount of content that has been generated from body cam footage to her vlog content has been unprecedented.

But what’s interesting is that, as well as hindering the investigation into her death, the true-crime obsessives have actually helped the police – the attention undeniably magnifying the public’s awareness.

Some online ‘witnesses’ have also spoken to police about their encounters with Gabby’s fiancé Brian Laundrie who is a ‘person of interest’ in the case.

Uneasy

But it is deeply unsettling to watch young girls exploit this dead girl’s story for views and followers. It’s allowed homicide to transform into entertainment – a one-sided, pretty-white-girl tragedy.

The algorithms that exist online also make it too easy to perpetuate misinformation on a global stage with little external oversight.

None of this is likely to change. But at least let’s consider covering all bases.

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