I enjoy a good real crime movie or limited series. Ah yes, the limited series. A series where they take a topic that could have been told in two episodes and make it six.
My wife and I recently watch one on Netflix that has a lot of people talking. It is called “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.” It is about the disappearance and death of a young woman at a notorious Los Angeles hotel.
This happened in 2013, and I remember seeing the haunting video of this woman in the hotel from the night she disappeared. The video came from a hotel elevator, where she looked like she was hiding from something or someone, then talking to someone and generally acting very strange.
This documentary, told over four episodes even though it really only needed two, goes in depth about the case and the hotel (Spoiler alert: She was bipolar and off her medication. She had some sort of psychotic break, went to the roof of the hotel, climbed into a water tank and drown. Very sad case).
The core story is interesting and the police work is always fascinating for me. But this show was about something more than that – something that truly disturbs me. It was about people on the Internet taking an acute interest in the case and running wild.
Here’s the thing about the Internet… It makes everyone feel like an authority on nearly every topic. It is also a place that too many people fall down the digital rabbit hole and get caught up in conspiracy theories. Look at the rise of Qanon as an example of this, a theory so ridiculous that I have a hard time understanding how anyone could believe it.
Well, the case of the missing woman – her name was Elisa Lam and she was a Canadian student visiting California – took the Internet by storm back in 2013. People who apparently had not much else to do starting blogging about and discussing her case. It was a couple of weeks between the time she disappeared and when her body was found. In that time, these Internet sleuths became convinced she was murdered, they even accused one person who wasn’t even in the country at the time of doing it, which nearly destroyed the man’s life. They saw conspiracies in every new development. They blamed the police, the coroner’s office, the hotel’s owners – pretty much everyone.
This is what the Internet can do best – create fiction out of reality. Once one person starts pushing a theory that they came up with, others start to grab on and before you know it there is a feeding frenzy of misinformation.
This is why I have time and time again spoken out against the rampant conspiracies that we see these days. The Internet has allowed people to spread false information in the blink of an eye. And as we know, the world is full of not only gullible people, but also people who think they know everything. And for some reason, both groups of people feel the need to let everyone know what they think.
This one case shows the destructive power of the Internet when it is used to spread false information. The show called these people “web sleuths,” but to me they were just sadly pathetic people with no lives of their own.
“Crime Scene” was worth a watch for people who enjoy true crime shows, but the real crime was clearly perpetrated by the “web sleuths” who ultimately got pretty much everything wrong and spread that bad information across the globe.