TikTok’s true crime community is targeting Idaho murder survivors – Rolling Stone

idaho murder tiktok

November 13 The discovery of four dead University of Idaho students has shocked the Moscow, Idaho community. But on TikTok, the murders kickstarted the app’s true crime engine: a network of amateur sleuths that quickly went to work absorbing, spreading, and dissecting all available information.

It was six weeks before police arrested suspect Bryan Kohberger, a criminology graduate student at Washington State University, leaving an information vacuum. In the absence of police updates, some extreme TikTok accounts have even publicly named individuals as murderers without cause. And this week, as authorities release more evidence, that machine has placed the blame on one of the students who survived that devastating night.

What we do know about the night of the murder is this: Kaylee Gonçalves, 21, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Ethan Chapin, 20, were found stabbed to death in their off-campus home after two of their roommates called 911 about an unconscious person. After the 11:58 call, the police stormed the premises. No motive or murder weapon was found, and authorities provided few updates on the case during the six-week investigation.

But when an affidavit was opened last week revealing new details about the night of the murders, the real crime community was shocked to learn that one of the roommates saw the suspect in the house in the early hours of Nov. called seven hours later. Though the document was redacted in places, the statement sent the Idaho 4 fandom on TikTok into a frenzy — and another dark wave of victim-blaming.

Referred to as DM in the statement, the surviving roommate said she saw someone in the house the morning of the murders. DM told police he woke up and opened his bedroom door several times during the night, including at one point where he thought he heard crying in Mogen’s room and a voice that said something that sounded like, “Okay, I’ll help you. ” When DM opened the door a third time around 4:17 a.m., the statement said that she saw a 5’10” figure with bushy eyebrows “dressed in black clothing and a mask”. a “frozen shock” but left through the sliding door without interacting – at which point DM said she locked herself in her room.

Since the statement was released, videos using a hashtag of the roommate’s legal name have had more than 36 million views, with key clips questioning her motives and actions on the morning of the murders. While TikTok users outside of the true crime community have come to the surviving roommate’s defense, there are still thousands of comments, saying her inaction was odd at best and sinister evidence at worst.

Adam Golub, professor of American studies at Cal State Fullerton, says the prevalence of fictional crime series and movies can draw people to real crimes with popular motives and narratives they recognize from pop culture. Golub cites the death of Gabby Petito as an example of popular motives – in this case, that of the missing white woman – generating online interest in real-life cases. Petito, who was 22 when she was killed by her fiancé Brian Laundrie while traveling in a van across the country, has become a shining example of how the real TikTok crime community can have an effect in the real world. Online interest in the young woman’s disappearance rocketed Petito’s case to national attention, even as families of missing people of color criticized the focus on yet another missing white woman.

“[The Idaho murders] match the demographics of our typical true crime obsessions,” says Golub. “Four white children murdered, three of whom are young women. And thanks to social media in the 21st century, audience engagement has become the norm. We are seeing a shift from Hollywood-produced true crime to user-generated true crime content.”

The recognition that makes true crime fans relate to the crimes they see in the news can also mean that people often make false assumptions about how they would react when placed in the same place, according to Golub.

“The pop culture narrative of True Crime is very compressed and we see the action taking place immediately,” says Golub.. “We are very confident that if we had been there, we would have acted differently. But where is our evidence for that?”

After the intense reaction to the statement, the family of victim Kaylee Gonçalves came to the roommate’s defense, publicly urging people not to blame Kohberger.

“It’s natural for girls to freeze and lock themselves up and get into a secure position,” Steve Gonçalves, Kaylee’s father, told local Idaho station KTVB. “I don’t hold that against them. I already checked that, could they have survived? You know, was it a slow bleed or something? And it wasn’t. So, there’s a bad guy here that I have to focus on.”

“[She] it’s very young and she was probably very, very scared,” Alivea Gonçalves, Kaylee’s sister, told NewsNation. “And until we have more information, I think everyone should stop making judgments because you don’t know what you would do in that situation.”

While some users have apologized for the various claims, hundreds of other videos with unsubstantiated claims are still available to watch on the app. And at least five people — including close friend Jack Showalter, a victim’s boyfriend, a Door Dash driver, a food truck worker and University of Idaho professor Rebecca Schofield — have all been accused by random reports of murder the students, without any official evidence. to back up the claims. A TikTok Tarot reader, Ashley Guillard, is being sued by Schofield, who claims that Guillard posted at least 30 defamatory TikTok videos that damaged her reputation and caused her emotional distress.

“[Scofield] he fears for his life and the lives of his family members,” says the lawsuit. “She incurred costs, including costs to install a security system and security cameras in her residence. She fears that Guillard’s false statements could motivate someone to cause harm to her or her family members”.

When asked by Rolling Stone about the potential damage her videos could do, Guillard said, “I don’t care about the damage that happened to Rebecca Schofield because it has nothing to do with me.”

But a lawyer for Scofield told Rolling Stone: “Professor Scofield intends to speak about her allegations in this case. We are aware that Ms. Guillard continues to make false and defamatory statements and we anticipate that the media will not repeat these statements.”

On Dec. 30, another TikTok user who identified herself as Annika Klein, a family member of Showalter, a friend of the roommates, said 0nline detectives did real damage when they recklessly blamed her family for covering up the murders without evidence, posting their faces, places of work and addresses online. A video she refers to has since been deleted, but the account owner continues to post videos related to the Idaho murders case. Since the public scrutiny, Showalter and most of his family members have deactivated their social media accounts and could not be reached for comment. The account owner also did not immediately respond to Rolling Stonecomment request.

“I’m in this stitched video where they are insinuating that my family – the Showalters – are politically powerful enough or they would never cover up a quadruple homicide,” Klein says with tears in her eyes. “I’m so glad they have a suspect in custody because it’s justice for the victims and their families, but it also gives all the people who were falsely accused and dragged through the mud a chance to heal too. We received threats and harassment and we didn’t deserve that. Jack didn’t deserve this. And hopefully in the future we can take away from this that it’s not a track game.”

Even after Kohberger was arrested and taken into custody by the Moscow Police, many of the accusations against people close to the victims continued. But there are also thousands of TikTok users who have begun to vehemently criticize not only the victim’s guilt, but also the app’s intense obsession with tragic cases like the Idaho murders.

“The fascination with true crime on social media is just an extension of the fascination with crime,” says Jeffrey Lin, professor of criminology at the University of Denver. Rolling Stone. “We want to be able to control crimes that seem out of control. We have this intense desire to help and be heroic, but we don’t have the opportunity to do so. Most of us fail to become top researchers [for the FBI] but we can go into TikTok and search [Brian Laundrie’s] van. This is just the fulfillment of the fantasy that has been presented to us for decades.”

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Golub calls TikTok’s true crime community the “wild west” when it comes to self-policing content, noting that many of the top true crime subscribers on Reddit have formalized official posting rules to prevent unfounded conjecture and possible victim blaming. And individuals who feel libeled or misled online can file defamation suits against specific accounts. But according to Golub, even if users follow stricter legal guidelines or precedents, the complicated tension between real crime as gruesome events and a modern form of entertainment means that situations like this are likely to continue to happen.

“False and wrongful accusations, even wrongful convictions, are nothing new, but the speed and volume of these wrongful accusations appears to be increasing exponentially in this era of true crimes on demand,” says Golub. “There are already so many people defending [the roommate]…. saying that she is already a victim. But I think, in a way, we may be reaching a tipping point. I think we’re about to force ourselves to have more ethical conversations about the re-traumatizing effect of all this true crime.”


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