With the ethics of true crime content coming under increasing scrutiny, Rebecca considers how much of this criticism is deserved.
True crime podcasts have been my long-standing companion for years. Especially over the pandemic, my government-approved daily walks were always accompanied by the girls over at Crime Junkie, bringing light to some lesser-known cases.
The retelling of true crime cases has exploded online in recent years, with a huge surge in “unsolved mystery” videos. Whether it be ASMR videos, makeup tutorials or just a sit-down chat – there’s a true crime community in there.
Unfortunately, with the skyrocketing popularity of “unsolved mysteries” comes endless ethical concerns with the creation and consumption of this content. The countless sponsorships, for one, can be uncomfortable: jumping from a Casetify advert to a gruesome unsolved homicide investigation in a matter of minutes. Are we losing the meaning of these victims’ stories among monetary opportunities that come with a large audience? There’s definitely the risk of that.
Monetised true crime videos are tricky. Good content creators need to sustain a living to be able to continue producing thoroughly researched, high-quality videos. When done respectfully and meticulously, I think it’s okay for content creators to monetise their videos. When I genuinely believe the money goes back into the channel, enabling sensitive and professional production to continue and really make a difference, I don’t mind sitting through another Audible ad.
The trend of true crime makeup videos warrants some discussion. These videos entail creators applying makeup while discussing cases, emulating a casual discussion between friends on a virtual scale. I completely understand that people may find this tasteless and a bit flippant. When real people’s tragic stories are being discussed among interjections of what shade of lipgloss you’re popping on, it can be a bit jarring. However, I don’t think these creators maliciously set out to play down the horrors many victims face. Most creators are well-meaning, perhaps trying to make a very heavy topic a little lighter with some visual distraction. But for me, if the stories are being told respectfully, with accurate details and necessary contact information for any tips, I think true crime content is okay, and even helpful.
If you are interested in respectful true crime creators (who don’t do makeup while discussing crime, if that doesn’t sit right with you) Kendall Rae is exceptional. She regularly has victims’ family members in videos and frequent fundraisers for under-reported cases. She is one to watch if you’re a little on the fence about consuming true crime content. Although she does monetise her content, she has monthly partnerships with anti-human trafficking organisations and domestic violence charities. She produces highly professional content, discussing ongoing cases from a range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds and is one creator whose ads I am happy to support. Other honourable mentions include Danelle Hallan and Georgia Marie, who also covers a range of LGBTQ+ history content.
At the end of the day, if you don’t support true crime content, simply don’t consume it. Many people, myself included – particularly as a young woman – find true crime highly informative for sharing safety tips and red flags to look out for in the dating world, local communities or online. It isn’t the sick fantasy critics tend to make it out to be. However, a true crime viewer should be an active consumer, leaving comments of support or engaging with victims’ families’ social media pages, establishing whether they are happy with coverage of the case. Some families are looking for any coverage possible, others are unhappy with false information being recirculated. It is up to the viewer to do their own research into the ethics of their consumption.
I don’t think it’s fair to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Just because some creators may not sit right with you, or research thoroughly enough, does not mean that there aren’t excellent creators out there who dedicate their time respectfully covering ongoing cases. For many cases, especially those concerning people of colour or LGBT groups, online coverage via podcast or YouTube is often the only outreach they get when mainstream outlets maintain prejudices against certain demographics. There is value in the true crime community, as long as we the consumers elevate the platforms of those who do it right.