How the Internet Helps Solve Crime

Picture of By Naramol (Jaja) Pipoppinyo

By Naramol (Jaja) Pipoppinyo

Imagine spending time training for your profession, just to find out that some amateur is far better than you. Well, that’s exactly what happened to a few detectives that weren’t able to solve their cases. Professionals spend weeks, months, and even years trying to solve mysteries. Be it murder, suicide, or robbery, these processes require time to track down the culprit. Sometimes, when cases start taking too long to solve, they turn cold and that is when the detectives of the internet take over. Also known as internet sleuths, these amateurs successfully solved multiple cases that professionals weren’t able to. 

Who are the internet sleuths?

Internet sleuths are amateur detectives who solve crime with any type of information available on the web. These people have zero experience and yet, like pieces of a puzzle, they are able to collect online information and arrange them to solve a mystery. Information can range from those provided by officials, the victims themselves, or perpetrators that weren’t too careful with their digital footprint. These sleuths receive nothing in return other than pride and recognition, yet they take it upon themselves to solve these crimes and become fully engrossed in them. Although to amateurs it may be just a hobby, sleuthing has led to numerous solutions in times where the professionals were not so successful. 

Times when internet sleuths did their job well 

Internet sleuthing helped solve numerous mysteries that were once considered inexplicable. Such as when the American police received an anonymous tip from a sleuth that connected an unsolved disappearance of  25-year-old woman Paulette Jaster to an unidentified body buried in a Texas grave for 35 years. Another time the internet helped find the group of people that severely beat two men for ‘being gay’. Police had put out surveillance footage to track down the assaulters, allowing Twitter users to identify the perpetrators in no time. 

Even though their motives may be self-serving, the sleuth’s curiosity often turns into generosity when considering how much relief it gives to the people involved. The family of Paulette Jaster was finally able to get some answers and stop wondering about what happened to their loved one. In the case of the two Philedeliphian men, they were able to get justice for an unacceptable hate crime. Considering these examples, the advantages of the free internet are self-evident because, when professionals give up, random netizens are there to solve inextricable mysteries. That is why the release of personal information that was once considered purely confidential could actually benefit some.

The problem – when they link it to the wrong person

There have been times, however, when internet sleuthing was everything but helpful. Recently, a new crime show, The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, was released on Netflix. It features the unsolved case of 21-year-old Elisa Lam, who mysteriously went missing and 19 days later, found dead and naked in the hotel’s practically unopenable water tank. In 2013, when the crime was committed, the case gained popularity due to the viral surveillance footage of Elisa behaving in a rather bizarre way. The young woman was filmed while acting as if somebody was standing close to her, moving her arms in the air, while nobody was actually there. Many online users were drawn to the story and began the aggressive crackdown of the unexplainable cold case of Elisa Lam. 

The investigating internet sleuths connected the case to Pablo Vergara, a singer who went by the name “Morbid”. He was a metal musician who created dark and murderous music. Sleuths found videos of Morbid at the Cecil Hotel at the time of Elisa Lam’s disappearance. The fact that Morbid dressed up in bizarre ways and wore rather dark makeup, displaying fictional violence in his music videos, did not help his case of innocence. As a result, the internet sided with Elisa Lam and started blaming Morbid for her death through cyber-bullying. The allegations ruined Morbid’s career and mental health to the point where he almost ended his life. 

Sleuths were quick in blaming Morbid even though they did not have access to the complete story. With only their fingertips, people are today able to easily and anonymously post anything – often forgetting that the person they’re targeting is an actual human being. Moreover, internet sleuths are often unaware of information authorities keep confidential, having thus a rather incomplete picture of the case. As a consequence, not only was Morbid blamed, but the internet also began pointing fingers at higher institutions such as the LAPD and even the U.S government. In cases like this, the disadvantages of the internet are apparent, as people may have access to many things but not everything. These dangerous potholes of knowledge can lead to misinformed conclusions that harm innocent people, just like Morbid. 

Is It More Harm Than Good? 

With just a few clicks, online users can harm the reputation and identity of innocent people, posting unreliable information open to criticism and misinterpretation.

This leaves many wondering if internet sleuthing is more harmful than good. We have seen that, at times, sleuths have helped solve mysteries professionals had classified as inextricable. And there is no doubt that the  internet’s role as an information disseminator has benefited countless scenarios, not only in criminology. Indeed, sharing information allows people to reach others that are willing to help expecting nothing in return. However, we also see the downsides of the Internet.  With just a few clicks, online users can harm the reputation and identity of innocent people, posting unreliable information open to criticism and misinterpretation. Thus, there is no unique answer, and Internet sleuthing is just another  example of how information can be used for good and bad.


Cover: Pixabay/Alexas Fotos

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