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When Kendall Rae started making true-crime vlogs in 2017, her channel exploded, garnering 500 to 1,000 new subscribers every day.
But soon thereafter, she began to question the ethics behind her content, she told Insider.
“I grew up thinking that this was for entertainment,” she said. “I never truly thought about how it was affecting the people behind the screen … I started to feel a lot of questions of is this ethical? Am I doing this right? Can I do this in a way that’s helpful instead of harmful?”
In August 2018, Rae started inviting victims’ family members onto her channel for collaborative videos to help them seek justice.
She isn’t alone. As the true crime genre becomes more ubiquitous on YouTube, a medium that affords greater interactivity than exists in podcasts or docuseries, Rae is part of a new crop of YouTubers who aren’t just talking about cases, but actively trying to help solve them.
Another channel, Oregon-based collective Adventures With Purpose, has pioneered a sub-genre within “crimetube” of channels tackling cold cases by scuba diving to dredge up sunken vehicles and drowning victims.
The team has solved 23 cold cases to date – and is branching out into active investigations, such as the recent Kiely Rodni case – thanks to its mastery of sonar technology. This work is solely funded by YouTube ads and viewer donations, and provided at no expense to police or families.
“We’re at the point now where law enforcement relies on us for training,” Doug Bishop, the group’s lead diver, told Insider. “They’re calling on us for cases that they can’t solve.”
But police aren’t always so receptive, given that it can be difficult to disentangle other motivations. Other concerns include the endangerment of would-be investigators, the misidentification of a perpetrator, or sullying an investigation that needs to hold up in court.
“If your incentive is to make money, you might be overzealous in pursuing something or doing something that is more sensational to get views,” said Johnny Nhan, a criminal justice professor at Texas Christian University who also serves as a reserve officer for the Forth Worth Police Department.
In some cases, though, Rae believes that pushing back against police is warranted, especially when she’s advocating against corruption or inaction on behalf of family members.
“Something I’ve learned doing true crime videos and podcasting is … how many cases have been severely limited based on the mistakes that have happened, lack of responsibility, lack of interest and priority from the police,” she said. “So I think they deserve that pushback.”
You can hear more in Insider’s The Refresh podcast:
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