“The internet has turned us all into amateur detectives”: Critique

By Nur Sa’adah Batrisyia

An article narrated by Amelia Tait for The Guardian has caught my attention as it unfolds the reality of online culture nowadays that is being monopolised by generation Z.

From compiling databases of clues and theories and doing research from unnecessary details, this generation is exposed to be an investigator without a license. As a matter of fact, being a Korean-pop fan does expose me to this type of fans who are acting like the agents of FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), thus explaining why Amelia Tait’s article perfectly illustrates the trend of online culture. 

To begin with, the captivating but straightforward title generally summarises what the article is going to talk about. While the title intrigues the readers to question themselves, it also unconsciously evokes their mind to check on their daily social media footprint. “Does the internet make me an amateur detective? If yes, how?” “Does my way of using this digital platform harm others’ life?”. The author is able to let these questions ponder upon the readers’ mind at the beginning of her writing. 

Starting the article with a monologue narrative, this hook is able to grab reader’s attention through the amateur detective’s point of view (POV). This well-explained narrative induces into reader’s mind what it is meant by ‘the internet has turned us all into amateur detectives”.

The lead conveys: 

They’ve broken up. I know they’ve broken up because I haven’t seen him on her Instagram Stories for weeks now, and she normally doesn’t go two days without zooming in on his moustache or snapping him with his hashtag pint. OK, there are still photos of him on her main feed – granted, sure, that could mean they’re still together. But there, look, see: she’s just posted her dinner. Steak tacos. He’s a vegetarian, remember? She never ate meat when she was with him.

Based on the lead, a humanistic element of ‘showing rather than telling’ can be seen here. 

The author also utilises block writing to ease the way for readers to read while also keeping their attention on track, influencing readers to stay until the end. Moreover, the spiralling writing technique allows readers to link between two different paragraphs, creating a sense of flow from one block to another block.

For example: 

…The popularity of mystery novels and true crime documentaries has long been a testament to our desire to play detective, but it’s the internet that’s transformed us all into amateur investigators.

From nosy neighbours on Nextdoor to obsessives on gossip forums, anti-vaxxers on Facebook or Twitter’s moral arbiters, more and more people seem to spend their time online digging and deducing, hunting for clues about other people’s lives.

The spiralling narrative used is to expand the idea development by adding more details. It piloted the readers in the direction set by the article. 

Additionally, by taking a few real-life examples of the #FreeBritney movement and the Marina Joyce kidnapping conspiracy, the author is able to clearly portray how overzealous obsession could lead the fans to create pseudo-speculation.

It is by blindly claiming that they knew what is going around one’s life. All of these examples are explained by using linking techniques, which could bring readers to other stories for a more vivid image of such events. By providing numerous hyperlinks, it creates a connection between stories while keeping stories relevant and precise in order to avoid rambling off the topic.

Credit: VICE

Most notably, the author’s way of providing peaks and valleys throughout the writings by constantly inculcating little problems create a tension element onto the topic discussed. Just like a movie plot, when the author persistently presents the aftermath of amateur internet detectives towards the victim, it intrigues readers to stay until the climax of the story is revealed.

This is evident when the author wrote: 

…In 1995, an American theatre director named Tom Arriola started a website called Crime Scene, inviting members of the public to hunt through case documents in order to help solve a murder. Though Arriola merely posed as “Detective Ted Armstrong” and his story of a brutally murdered student was purely fictional, many early internet users enthusiastically believed the case was real.

Then, the author feeds readers with another problem: 

In 2013, Reddit users infamously tried to find the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing and incorrectly identified student Sunil Tripathi, bombarding his family with distressing phone calls.

From simply hunting clues for Taylor Swift new album, the author then explicitly tells readers how this harmless habit can lead to a damaging and pointless end. “These hypothetical stories had undermined celebrity personal life and shut them from standing up for themselves” — this is what the author is trying to convey. 

For the valleys, the author ends the article with a statement saying “creating speculation based on information provided by social media users is inevitable”. The writer also highlighted that digital detectives do not always end badly, as some even help the police to solve crime cases.

Even though the ending irks me because it carries the message that “there is nothing we can do against digital detectives”, it indeed reveals the reality of online culture. No one can control others’ social media footprint. 

Overall, the article discusses the pros and cons of using the internet to spy on other’s life. It pushes the readers to reflect upon themselves and to understand that users themselves pave the way for others to dig their stories.***

(This article is written as part of individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)

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