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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Who suffers when online detectives turn true crime into entertainment?


Darin Dunkin was mourning his best friend Brent Kopacka when he first saw it – a string of online posts falsely claiming that Kopacka was somehow connected to november killing Four college students in Moscow, Idaho.

“I immediately started defending him because I was shocked and I was angry,” Duncan said in an interview with “Impact x Nightline.” “I was really pissed off. I should have let go of all these people just talking and running to the ground myself. But I thought, well, maybe I can stop it. But then I realized I’m just one person against all these people on the internet .”

On November 13, 2022, Kaylee Goncalves, Maddie Mogen, Xana Kernodle, and Ethan Chapin were stabbed to death in the middle of the night at their off-campus home at the University of Idaho. As the town mourns, it is also hit by a storm of misinformation and lies from online sleuths who decide to investigate for themselves.

“During this time, the police are investigating, looking at the evidence and trying to find and apprehend the perpetrators. At the same time, TikTok is flooded with theories, every conjecture about the case. This is creating a community A lot of confusion,” said Adam Golub, a professor of American studies at Cal State Fullerton who studies the link between true crime and entertainment.

University of Idaho students Haadiya Tariq, Daniel Ramirez and Ben DeWitt also spoke on Impact about the deluge of false rumors and allegations that began circulating online when they reported the case for the school’s newspaper, The Argonaut. Tarek and Ramirez graduated in May.

“It’s an interesting question to ask people: How many people do you personally know who have been accused of being murderers? I know two,” Tariq said.

“With so many people accusing so many people, it’s just as harmful to have their full names published on social media,” Tariq said.

ABC News legal expert Brian Buckmire said that if Internet sleuths point to the wrong people, “simply accusing a person of being involved in four college student murders can damage a person’s reputation beyond repair.”

False speculation about Kopacka’s involvement in the murder was raised by a caller on YouTube and podcast episodes, and spread far beyond that — Facebook, Reddit, and other social media platforms.

Duncan, who had been friends with Kopaca since high school, was devastated to see Kopaca’s name wrongly associated with a crime just weeks after his death.

“None of this is true. It’s all from people who don’t know him, have never even met him,” Dunkin told Influence.

What actually happened to Kopacka was what Dunkin said was hard for him to accept.

According to investigators, officers responded to Kopaca’s Washington home on Dec. 15 after receiving reports of threats against his roommate. The house was just a few miles from the crime scene of the Idaho murders. Kopacka sealed himself off for several hours and at one point opened fire. Police said they returned fire and shot Kopaca.

In Kopaca’s obituary, his family said he had struggled with PTSD for years after returning from serving in Afghanistan. Dunkin said Kopaca wasn’t the same when he returned.

“He’s more aloof. He’s quieter, out of nowhere becoming very private. He likes to move around, and he has serious crowd anxiety,” Duncan said.

The Impact reached out to Kopaca’s family for comment but did not hear back.

Meanwhile, for many in the Moscow, Idaho community, the online frenzy has clouded the heart of the story — the victims and the loss of life. It could also put investigators in a bind, according to Buckmire.

“When you’re looking for clues and facts about a case, they can hinder the investigative process. Getting ten might help. Getting a thousand and 999 of them are just random people saying, ‘I think this’ – the police have to One by one, so there may be delays in the investigation,” Buckmire said.

Moscow police have continued to push back against a barrage of false allegations throughout the investigation, even adding a “rumor control” section to their website.

“The best thing people can do is stop any type of rumours, and only seek official information from the Moscow Police Department,” Col. Kedrick Wills said at a news conference on Nov. 20.

On December 30, 2022, detectives arrested a 28-year-old man Brian Christopher Koberg In Albrightsville, Pennsylvania, four counts of first-degree murder and one count of burglary. A former criminology student at nearby Washington State University was arraigned on May 22. Kohberger’s attorney told the judge her client would “remain silent,” prompting the judge to enter a not guilty plea on his behalf. The trial is scheduled to begin in October.

Many questions remain over the murders of Kaylee Goncalves, Maddie Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin, but One thing is for sure – America’s obsession with true crime extends far beyond Moscow. True crime has become a booming industry in recent years.

“We’re living in an era of truly on-demand crime right now,” Golub said. “We basically have true crime at our fingertips. You have podcasts, you have streaming documentaries. You know, you have YouTube and TikTok accounts that are now generating true crime.”

“I think people just have this morbid fascination with true crime,” Tariq said. “In a sense, I think we all do.”

The latest, “Impact x Nightline,” begins streaming Thursday, June 8 on Hulu. Produced by ABC News’ Rachel Rosenbaum, Rachel Wentzlaff, Caroline Parr, Lauren Dimondo and Zach Fanning.


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