Social media treatment of Gabby Petito is problematic

The sensationalizing of Gabby Petito is problematic

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

The sensationalizing of Gabby Petito’s death is problematic due to the disrespect given to the victim’s privacy and the visibility it had over other cases. 

Recently, Gabby Petito went viral on TikTok for going missing after a road trip with her fiancé. In the span of a few days, people began speculating and doing their own investigations over what they think happened.

With all of the coverage, a YouTuber was able to recognize Petito’s van in some of her video footage which led to the discovery of Petito’s body. 

However, there have been many comments on social media lacking sensitivity towards Petito’s case and glorifying the involvement in solving a crime. People have also created multiple monetized series on TikTok and are already talking about Netflix making a documentary

People are viewing this case as a form of entertainment rather than a tragic story.

Petito’s body was found after a YouTuber was able to recognize Petito’s van. This brings up the argument about whether social media helps solve cases quicker or if it only allows for a spread of insensitive comments and misinformation. 

If social media does allow for cases to be solved quicker, it seems to focus only on white women. This is called missing white woman syndrome

According to a study by Zach Sommers, white women receive more coverage in the news compared to people of color. When people of color are presented in the media, they are rarely described as beautiful like their white peers.

People tend to focus longer on the cases of missing white women than the ones of Indigenous, Black or Hispanic women. Missing cases of men are also rarely seen in the media. 

People can grieve and feel upset for Petito and her family but also question under the same breath why their Hispanic, Black or Indigenous brothers and sisters are not getting the coverage they need to be found. 

With Petito’s case, it shows the coverage and resources are available. Social media is a powerful force capable of starting movements, search parties, petitions and crowdfunds. If there is a way to help those who are underrepresented, it definitely starts with social media but there should be limits. 

The over speculation of Petito’s personal life helped fuel exposure but also eliminated any sense of privacy and respect toward her. With people looking up her Spotify and other social media, people were quick to make assumptions which spiraled into large clumps of misinformation spreading around. 

Petito’s life was not a game or a puzzle needing to be solved by social media users. She’s a person and the lack of sensitivity regarding her case is unsettling. 

Social media is powerful so when it comes to covering cases like Petito’s it is important to be respectful. Those sentiments should also be extended to other missing cases like Wyoming’s missing Indigenous people that do not make the headlines.

The way the internet treated the Petito case was problematic. People should try to turn their attention to all the missing person cases of people of color that get ignored by the media. 

Additionally, missing person cases should not lead people to analyze every aspect of the person’s life to the point of being disrespectful. The sensationalizing of Petito’s death was wrong and hopefully, the internet will learn from it for next time.

Cindy Rivas Alfaro is a Journalism freshman who can be reached at [email protected]

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