Are we bad guys for talking about bad guys?

There exists and there will always exist a subsection of society that is fascinated by and enjoys learning about crimes. It seems that everyday, there are more true crime shows, documentaries, books, or podcasts being released for people to read, watch, or buy. 

Some individuals find this media comforting; the idea that they know what is coming comforts them. It does not even have to do with the fact that they will be able to stop what is happening, but they are able to anticipate what could potentially happen, no matter how low the probability. For others, it is like any other hobby or interest, the same way that someone is fascinated by WWII. It is not that they encourage or condone any actions. They are simply fascinated. 

But all this consumption begs the question: Is it ethical to consume or create content that monetizes a person’s suffering? 

Now, there are several trains of thoughts. One is that, if it is legal, people have the right to do it. Criminal justice teacher Nicole Cullen claimed, “If it’s legally allowed, that’s the mindset I follow. [The ethics are] worth talking about. It is an issue and a point to be brought up.” And it is legal to discuss public crimes. They are for public record and public consumption. But investigating and learning about crimes or a particular crime is different from monetizing and gaining money off of the crimes. 

Another idea is that it boils down to intentions. What are the intentions of the hosts or the writers of the media? Is it to share a good story about a weird/creepy bad guy? Is it to raise awareness for a particular cause or case that may have gone cold? Is it to warn others of the dangers out there? But at the end of the day, intentions are hard to measure and easy to manipulate. 

The impact that the media has is the key factor in whether or not it is ethical to make and/or consume whatever book or podcast that was created. If the impact raises awareness for a cause, pushes people to donate to a fundraiser, advocate for a particular right or protection, then that is helpful to the person or group of people who were affected by the crime. One popular crime podcast “Crime Junkie” encourages people to reach out to them with their own personal story of tragedy, and they then share the story with their followers, spreading awareness and hope. 

Now, some people believe that it is never okay to monetize or gain something from another person’s severe loss. Junior Jean Jones spends their free time researching murders and crimes. Jones shared, “I don’t think it’s okay to monetize that kind of thing. And normally the monetization goes towards the serial killer; the victims are not normally mentioned, which is saddening. I think it’s not okay to the victim, to monetize their story and suffering.” 

Now, if a victim wants to share their story and make money off of it, that is 100% their right to do so. It is their personal experience, and they have the right to use it in whatever way they so desire. 

There is a right and wrong way to discuss other people’s suffering. The best way is obviously with the victim’s permission and sharing in a way that helps the victim rather than harm. Focusing on the criminal only immortalizes their actions, encouraging them or other copycats to repeat their actions for the sake of attention. And, it ignores the suffering of the people whose lives were shattered. Stay safe and consume carefully.