Netflix and the True Crime obsession

There’s something immensely intriguing about true crime stories. What really happened to JonBenét Ramsay? Where is Madeline McCann? And what was that obsession with binge-listening to murder podcasts at your desk in late 2014? (And always, if you’ve moved beyond Serial.)

But why are we so interested in the tragedies of others? Why do we hypothesise and create all these theories? Are we actually just bat shit crazy/morbid AF? We asked psychologist Meredith Fuller because at this stage we’re questioning our sanity, too.

Part of the reason that texts – books, television, film, art – please us is that they appeal to our universal sense of human nature. We can explore other parts of our personality that we might not openly embrace but can acknowledge are there.

Fuller explains that if all we ever consume in a textual form is true crime and we won’t watch anything else, then it can skew our moral sense.

“It upsets the balance of giving you an insight into evil. It’s like that argument that it’s not good for young people to watch a lot of violence because it can encourage an inner violence within them.” (2020)

But, let’s be honest. Even if you do think you’re going OTT, you’re probably not going to stop the Netflix auto-roll on Making a Murderer anytime soon. But it’s always good to break things up with a Friends re-run now and again… or, you know, a book.


Why True Crime Podcasts Are So Effective

True crime is a popular genre of podcasts, but why? Does everyone just love murder and serial killers (don’t answer that)? We dive into the science and drivers propelling the popularity of true crime as a category.

According to Scott Bonn, professor of criminology at Drew University and author of the book, Why We Love Serial Killers, true crime “triggers the most basic and powerful emotion in all of us—fear.” This is the primary driver of the popularity of true crime novels, television shows, and podcasts. People look at true crime as a way to face their fears without actually experiencing the danger or trauma associated with them. This controlled exposure to fear is a way to face the possibility of crime and subconsciously develop strategies and coping mechanisms to handle it in the event a similar situation comes to pass.

In a study conducted by social psychologist Amanda Vicary, it was found that women tend to prefer true crime topics more than men. As an example, the Wine and Crime podcast, which gets 500,000 downloads per month, has an audience of 85% women. What Vicary discovered in her research of a variety of true crime books, podcasts, and television shows is that women tend to be drawn to the psychological content of true crime stories. They are interested in understanding why such a crime would be committed. In addition, Vicary found that women seem to “like reading about survival, whether it was preventing or surviving a crime.” Her hypothesis is that because women are more likely to be a victim of crime than men, they are interested in using true crime stories to learn how to prevent it.

Dr. Mayer further explained this phenomenon as he connected watching true crime as an extension of people’s inability to look away from a disaster or tragedy. His research indicates that when people become aware of a violent situation or disaster, it “stimulates the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotions, survival tactics and memory). The amygdala then sends signals to the regions of the frontal cortex that are involved in analyzing and interpreting data. Next, the brain evaluates whether this data (awareness of the disaster) is a threat…, thus judgment gets involved. As a result, the ‘fight or flight’ response is evoked.” Mayer states that the need to prevent harm from a disaster or tragedy is also behind people’s need to “Google what happened” after hearing about or seeing an accident on the highway. He said, “This acts as a preventive mechanism to give us information on the dangers to avoid and to flee from.”


Why Do We Love True Crime?

Everywhere you turn these days, it seems like there’s a new—and wildly successful—book, podcast, or show devoted to a crime.The genre is so huge that Netflix—whose offerings in this arena include The Keepers, Evil GeniusWild Wild CountryMaking a Murderer, and The Staircase—even created a parody true crime series (American Vandal). Which raises the question: Why are we so obsessed with true crime? Here are just a couple of reasons!


The true crime genre gives people a glimpse into the minds of people who have committed what forensic psychologist Dr. Paul G. Mattiuzzi calls “a most fundamental taboo and also, perhaps, a most fundamental human impulse”—murder. “In every case,” he writes, “there is an assessment to be made about the enormity of evil involved.” This fascination with good versus evil, according to Mantell, has existed forever; Dr. Elizabeth Rutha, a licensed clinical psychologist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, told AHC Health News that our fascination begins when we’re young. Even as kids, we’re drawn to the tension between good and evil, and true crime embodies our fascination with that dynamic.


“Serial killers tantalize people much like traffic accidents, train wrecks, or natural disasters,” Scott Bonn, professor of criminology at Drew University and author of Why We Love Serial Killerswrote at TIME. “The public’s fascination with them can be seen as a specific manifestation of its more general fixation on violence and calamity. In other words, the actions of a serial killer may be horrible to behold but much of the public simply cannot look away due to the spectacle.”


Psychologists say one of the main reasons we’re obsessed with true crime is because it gives us an opportunity to feel relieved that we’re not the victim. Tamron Hall, host of ID’s Deadline: Crime, identified that sense of reprieve at ID’s IDCon last year. “I think all of you guys watch our shows and say, ‘But for the grace of God, this could happen to me’ … This could happen to anyone we know,” she said.

In a weird way, these true crime stories—as horrific as they are—end up being comforting. “While living in a world where there is rapid social, political, economic, and technological change,” Andrist said, “true crime comforts people by assuring them that their long-held ideas about how the world works are still useful.”


BCM241 Pitch!

Hi everyone! For my BCM241 DA I’ll be discussing the true crime media niche with specific points aiming at why individuals consume disturbing matter if it is meant to shock and scare us. Why are we, as humans so invested in these disturbing stories if it generates feelings of dread or horror?

I’ve always been drawn to true crime stories so deciding on this as my pitch was quite an easy decision. I really needed to narrow down my field site and research plan to make sure that I was researching a relevant topic that would have a definitive outcome. My research plan is basically to start an Instagram based on a different true crime media platform a week. Week 1 may be the true crime podcast “Teacher’s Pet’ whilst Week 2 may be the Ted Bundy tapes documentary found on Netflix. 

The posting regarding this media will allow me to observe the behaviours and commentary of my media audience in order to determine how users react to these disturbing sources and therefore become a basis for my research into why we, as consumers, still enjoy subjecting ourselves to disturbing matter online. I will also be taking notes on my own personal thoughts and feelings during and after consuming this media.


Background Research and Ethical Considerations

My Media Niche

After deep consideration and consultation, my media niche is one that I believe will come together to create an informative and interesting research project. As I was simply interested in true crime and the way it impacted society, I decided to take this a step further. I will be investigating the audience reactions of true crime on social media through an active blog page. Throughout this, I will be examining why we engage with true crime when it generates these feelings of possible negativity. 

Background Academic Research

Breaking down paradigmatic and theoretical frameworks are essential for my study and in order to do this, I will be investigating academic sources from all media platforms to discern this. The biggest part of ethnographical research is collecting, analysing and interpreting data so this is the major aim of my theoretical framework. 

My target when starting the framework of my research was to target towards the why aspect of my question. Why do we, as individuals invest ourselves into disturbing matter? Why do we investigate that scares us? I found particular source that will be extremely helpful in divulging this further. 

Ellen Wayland- Smith’s online article ‘East of Eden: On Rachel Monroe’s Savage Appetites’ (2019) investigates not only the text at hand, but steps further when discussing being “murder-minded” and having a mind always leaning towards the motives of murders. She states that she would  “seek solace from jangly nerves and a shaky post-2008 job market by bingeing back-to-back Law & Order: SVU episodes”. The blending of investigative journalism interspersed with history and cultural criticism provides amazing framework for an early researcher investigating their audience in an analytical way. I believe that unpacking this carefully curated source will assist me in viewing my audience interactions in a new and innovative way, without biasing me towards one particular view. Having this background knowledge is vital. 


When researching, we must seek to protect and hold our audience at the upmost of importance (2020). We cannot dehumanise our subjects and must respect their anonymity and confidentiality. Ethnographic research must tread lightly around this due to its heavy reliance on observational study methods. 

Mertens’ states within their text ‘Ethical Use of Qualitative data and findings’ (2014) that “Ethics sur- rounding the use of qualitative research needs to take into consideration the rigor and ethical nature of the research activities that precede use, as well as those inherently connected with decisions about the use of the data and findings”. 

This basically means that when conducting research and choosing sources, we must have our participants best interests at heart throughout the whole process. The presence of online research opens up the possibility of harm greatly due to the increased possibility of anonymity being foiled or confidentiality breaches. As Winter and Lavis (2019) state “Ethnography has been increasingly adopted by researchers across varied disciplines to study virtual spaces and communities”. Due to this new territory, the reliance on ethics must be focused on directly. In order to ensure I am ethically researching, I will be adopting Elgesem’s (2002) tactic of full disclosure and active listening. Online ethnography permits lots of flexibility so the adaption of “active listening” is core to my study. This means the sustained engagement with words and images that surround and give meaning to each post, including the captions, comments, and loops and webs of conversations that ensue. This allows further attention to context and provides a holistic understanding of digital culture and those who participate in it. Observing Instagram users thus means adopting confidentiality administration as I will be observing their comments and only including it in my study with express permission from users. This will therefore allow me to avoid deception and ensure the care of all participants involved


Problematising The True Crime Niche

Ever since I was a 15 year old student sitting on the bus watching true crime YouTube videos, to today, a 21-year-old who studies criminology, I have been thoroughly interested in true crime and social media. After narrowing my niche, I found that whilst true crime was interesting, it was extremely broad and in order for this to be a true autoethnographically study, I needed to use self0reflection to explore personal experience. So how could I do this? In order to view how true crime on social media affects community and culture, I need to insert myself into the experience. I plan on researching if true crime on social media has a detrimental or helpful effect on the human psyche. I plan on tracking mine and others experiences with true crime online and therefore viewing if the constant and repetitive nature of viewing true crime documentaries and partaking in true crime discussion allows one to immerse themselves in the case e.g. googling, researching, potentially looking to solve cases or whether it has an effect on ones mind e.g. feeling down, feeling hopeful, engaging with other fans. The main question I will be researching is “Does true crime on social media affect users positively or negatively”. 

Through the narrowing of my niche, I hope to open up the eyes of my fellow age-group and social media users regarding how they intake the media they are consuming. I hope that this study will open up a new form of consciousness surrounding possible harmful material online and make users more aware of how the media they consume affects them. 

My Research Plan 

Forming the basic of my research, the methods of autoethnography and observation must be considered. Observation is “used to test theories and develop new knowledge” (2020). It relies on senses and judgements related to personal subjectivity. This will be detrimental to my research method as I will be viewing true crime documentaries 3 times a week on different platforms (e.g. Spotify, Netflix and literature) and taking notes on my feelings, thoughts and actions in a field journal. This will provide my study with some freedom to explore my findings. I will be recording my every feeling and thought after consuming this media. This will be strictly overt, participatory observation. The next method to consider is autoethnography. Autoethnography has been typically characterised as an [autobiographical] genre of research and writing that Carolyn Ellis (1997) notes is “both a [process and product], that is both evocative and emotional”. After observing, I will then participate. I will engage with fan communities, speak to others who may share my feelings and gain their similar/differing perspectives. I will be doing this on reddit and twitter. This is my research, I am trying to illustrate analytic insights, develop new knowledge and offer original ideas, by bringing in other research and information to expand and augment my perspective. Who combination of the two will be my primary method of research, both regarding my own experience and those in the same community as myself. 

My Schedule 

I will begin by viewing different platforms of media and recording my observations and reactions to these happenings. I will log all of my feelings prior to posting on a curated, specific Instagram page made specifically for communicating with other true crime fans. I will record how users interact with me and the content in which I’m posting, whether this encourages my viewing habits, feelings towards the crimes and eagerness to immerse myself into the story of those I’m studying. I will j0urnal each week and after each post, setting aside 15 minutes to post once a week on my Instagram feed, reddit and twitter. I will record my feelings and habits over each week, hopefully clearly viewing how the regular interaction with true crime affects the human psyche. Basically, I will journal my thoughts and feelings, observe my Instagram communities’ feelings towards true crime and monitor my progress after a prolonged period of viewing real-life atrocities. 

Week 4-6 Journaling and Observing

Weeks 6-8 Observation and anonymous user questionnaire

Weeks 8-10 Journal check-up and compilation of data 

Weeks 10-12 Research writing and further compilation


Narrowing My Niche

True Crime and Social Media

After discussing my niche of true crime online, it was time to narrow this down further and really grasp what I wanted to get out of this project at an ethnographical standpoint. Defining my general media niche was easy. I enjoy true crime podcasts and want to investigate this further. The next step is the creation of a specialisation and thus, a field site for my investigation process. 

My Project

True crime has always existed. However, due to the increase of platforms such as Youtube, TikTok and Instagram, we as users are more tuned in to it that ever. We are now provided with a whole media niche related to the discussion and investigation surrounding true crime topics. Whilst discussion around this can span from a TikTok on a disappearance to a Youtuber discussing a murder case, the most popular form of this seems to be podcast formation due to the ease and price effective way of spreading information globally. The carefully composed set of information is particularly found in Hedley Thomas’ true crime podcast, ‘The Teacher’s Pet‘, as discussed in last week’s podcast.

Field Sites

According to Jenna Burrell in ‘The Field Site as a Network: A Strategy for Locating Ethnographic Research’ the term field site refers to the “spatial characteristics of a field-based research project, the stage on which the social processes under study take place”. Basically, in simpler terms, A field site is not a physical or virtual space, it is a term for the lived experience of a network of relations. 

When working to narrow down my media niche, the network of connections and relations seemed clear. The relaying of true fact to an audience on a platform such as ‘The Teacher’s Pet’ creates an online connection amongst its audience. In order to further reinforce this field site notion within true crime podcasts Baruah’s states “Internet is the place where people connect with friends, build a sense of togetherness and a computer with an Internet connection is the locus of a range of interactions in a variety of media and a gateway to an array of social spaces for work and play”. The digital aspect of podcasts top relay true crime means that anyone around the globe can connect and this may open up the discussion of whether true crime on social media influences the way people act, think and feel about what has occurred. These podcasts open up discussion surrounding crimes and influence everyday people as well as authorities within cases. 

As someone who is deeply interested in criminology and how it interacts on social media, I believe how true crime is displayed online is an incredibly valuable topic to pursue as there are so many ways it could be perceived. I wish to narrow this down further. I have consequently found several topics worth pursuing, including whether true crime discussions at any level besides being an authority figure is helpful or destructive. This could further be shown in the ‘Teacher’s Pet’ podcast, Hedley Thomas’s research and findings leading to more sexual assault communication and the possible arrest of perpetrator Chris Dawson. There is also valuable discussion around social media crime fan bases and what this means in terms of in-depth discussion about triggering crimes to susceptible youths. 

Made with Canva, 2020


My Media Niche

As a young adult living in a world of ever-growing media sources, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the latest media niche circling the web. From TikToks to Instagram models, from Youtube drama to Fortnight, us young Australians truly have a wide range of sources to find our own media niche. When thinking about mine, I truly struggled because, like everyone, I enjoyed YouTube videos and scrolling through Facebook for hours, but what made my interest unique to me was the collaboration of my passion for true crime interspersed with online research videos. True crime podcasts and YouTube videos are an interest that I have held for over 5 years. The investigation into what is not known, and the mystery broadcasted throughout worldwide media today sparked an interest in me that is further highlighted in YouTube videos by Isabella Fiori, Shane Dawson and podcasts such as Teachers Pet.  


Understanding a passion for a media subject is one thing, but physically turning into a project of research and investigative matter is a completely new territory for me. Whilst its vital to take ion new information about true crime, what really has potential for me would be viewing how online platforms communicate with true crime and how they thus react to real-life traumatic events. Examples of this can be shown in the Netflix Documentary ‘Don’t F*** With Cats’ which explores the murderer Luca Magnotta. In order to narrow this down further, if I were to explore the podcast ‘Teacher’s Pet’ which investigates the disappearance of Lynnette Dawson, I would then also investigate the presence it holds outside of the podcast realm. I would investigate who watches this podcast and its further media presence. The Teacher’s Pet Instagram offers viewers updates and commentary on the case and also provides listeners with a space to interact and chat about the passion they have for unsolved crime. ­

An example of true crime social media video by Isabella Fiori.


While the specificities of my true crime passion haven’t been settled on, I believe that this topic is a truly vital piece of research-worthy media. Having been passionate about this topic for a while, I’ve gained some valuable knowledge on how users react to true crim media and what they wanted to see out of it. This could really range from wanting to see weekly videos on new cases or follow-up videos on police leads that one is connected to. There are so many streams you can go down with this topic which is why I’m so interested in pursuing it. 

The Teacher’s Pet

The Teacher’s Pet is an Australian Crime podcast developed by Hedley Thomas. This weekly true crime podcast which runs for 50 minutes an episode delves into the disappearance of Lynette Dawson, possibly at the hands of her husband, Chris Dawson. This media source is incredibly interesting to listen to, not only because of its content, but the way is has thusly affected social media users and life in general. The Podcast has led to many interesting discoveries outside of the media realm as well. These may include the search into claims of sexual assaults and student-teacher relationships at high schools mentioned in the podcast, this credited with encouraging younger females to step forward after sexual assault. Chris Dawson’s arrest after the podcast aired is also incredibly interesting and worth exploring. 

Lynette and Chris Dawson

As you can see, true crime is incredibly valuable and worth pursuing, especially in regard to how it affects life online and the repercussions it brings for real-life.