Idaho murders conspiracy: How TikTok sleuths sparked online witch … – USA TODAY

For months, frustration, fear and mystery surrounded the infamous Idaho stabbing murders – a tragedy that left four University of Idaho students dead in November. There have been many questions but few answers surrounding the grisly slayings: No known motive. No known weapon. No known suspect – until now. 
Last week, police arrested 28-year-old doctoral student Bryan Kohberger for the murders of Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Kaylee Goncalves, 21 and Xana Kernodle, 20.
But it wasn’t who online sleuths predicted. 
On TikTok, conspiracy theories ran rampant in the absence of an arrest. True-crime lovers suspected the roommates, who were asleep and unharmed at the time of the murders. Others blamed a food truck owner who was seen interacting with the victims that same night. (Both had been ruled out by police as suspects). The allegations have even gone so far as to elicit a lawsuit from a professor after a TikTok user falsely claimed she “planned” the killings.
What we know about Bryan Kohberger:Arrest in the slaying of 4 University of Idaho students
“Most people don’t stop and think about the ramifications of what it means for (these speculations) to be public,” says Pamela Rutledge, a media psychologist who studies human behavior.
What started as curiosity has spiraled into an online witch hunt, resulting in harassment, defamation and doxxing. 
“Unless you are directly involved in the investigative process, publicly accusing anyone should be off-limits,” saysTristin Engels, a licensed clinical forensic psychologist. 
“This is how innocent people lose jobs, families and even their lives.”
Original story:Four University of Idaho students were slain in their beds while they slept: What we know
The murders, shrouded in mystery, have reverberated across the nation – so much so that amateur sleuths have taken it upon themselves to solve the case “based on rumors, rather than official information,” according to police. 
One video viewed by thousands claimed the roommates “must know more than they are letting on.” In another, someone described a food truck owner as a “possible stalker,” even urging authorities to “not take it lightly.”
The emotional investment in these unexplainable, gruesome cases is what experts call a parasocial relationship. Amid the public’s obsession with true crime, people with no real-life involvement often feel entitled to the raw details of a personal tragedy. 
“The treatment of this as a mystery or game is stemming from fear,” Engels says. The horrific nature of the crime “rattles our sense of security, so if those without a connection to the victims are able to make sense of it, they feel more in control of their own security.”
Some people also believe that bringing attention to the murders online will bring about justice faster, as shown by the growing popularity of true-crime sleuthing in the case of Gabby Petito. But the problem with forums like TikTok and Reddit is “it turns true crime into a reality show genre,” says Jenna Drenten, associate professor of marketing at Loyola University Chicago.
“It becomes about getting the money shot, being the one to make a connection or uncover a secret, often for the likes, shares, clicks and attention,” Drenten says. 
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Voicing suspicions may come from a place of good intention. But in this case, police called the avalanche of speculation “by far the most frustrating part of the investigation.”
“People are going down these rabbit holes, and they’re hyperfocusing on one individual and attacking that individual,” said Tauna Davis, an Idaho State Police trooper who is helping the Moscow Police Department handle media interview requests. “You’re attacking, most likely, an innocent person.”
More likely than bringing about justice, these rumors will revictimize friends, family and community members who are already traumatized. 
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“It’s a very low-stakes game for the sleuths online. They get the excitement of a true crime mystery,” Rutledge says. “But the internet is permanent. It’s searchable, and accusing someone of something incorrectly or even before they have been tried creates real-world consequences.”
The desensitization to real-life trauma is nothing new. But when we trivialize these cases, “we forget the ‘true’ in true crime and maintain a disconnect that allows us to be entertained by others’ tragedies,” Engels says.
Instead of falling into the sensationalism of violence, experts suggest:
“The most problematic content comes from people who are centering themselves in the story – their ideas, their theories, their feelings,” Drenten says. “And they lose sight of the actual lives of victims and families who deserve empathy, not exploitation.”
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