Social media highlights missing people of color and it’s working
TikTok videos and viral tweets have become the new “face on the milk carton.” Perhaps one good thing to come of the Gabby Petito murder case is that social media has put power back into the community, leading to more advocacy for missing persons of color.
The disappearance, and now killing, of Gabby Petito has been the subject of nationwide fascination, as well as scrutiny and debate. As more BIPOC missing persons were revealed who received little to no media coverage, including geologist Daniel Robinson, and the 700+ missing indigenous women of Wyoming, many began calling the huge disparity another example of gross racial injustice.
But maybe there’s more here than just another case of “Missing White Woman Syndrome” than the headlines would have us believe. It’s now becoming clear that—for better or worse—what really drew attention to Petito was a cocktail of two major factors. One, America’s true crime obsession (the moral ambiguity of treating this real-life murder like an interactive Dateline episode is another conversation entirely). And two, Petito’s pre-existing social media presence.
And though there is much to be said about what’s wrong with this, there is also something positive about how online communities are now rallying together to use the same formula in order to raise awareness of previously ignored cases.
Take Layla Jama, TTDrama on Tiktok, and her audience of 757,000. They asked her to post about 25-year-old Black man Jelani Day, who had been missing in Illinois for more than a month. Layla listened to her followers’ request and posted two emotionally charged videos with the hashtag #FindJelaniDayToday. In one of her videos, she challenges her followers to “go do your detective work and find him.”
What we know so far #findjelaniday
I’ll post an update once I get more info #findjelaniday
#duet with @ttdramanews boosting to help her get her son back. #findjelaniday
Another viral tweet went out for Lauren Cho, who disappeared from Yucca Valley, California on June 28. A Twitter user wrote, “I don’t know much about her case, but let’s get the same energy going to help locate #LaurenCho as we did for #GabbyPetito.” That tweet now has 67.5K views.
I don’t know much about her case, but let’s get the same energy going to help locate #LaurenCho as we did for… https://t.co/ktbntEXzx9
— hollyjolly_scrunchies (@hollyjollyscrun)
And then there’s the family of Daniel Robinson, who have taken the search for Daniel into their own hands with a series of TikTok videos documenting updates of their search. They received more interaction online than they had with the Buckeye, Arizona authorities.
Reply to @mel_hudson1 Gabby Betito’s case got the support and help that we now are praying for! #fyp #helpfinddanielrobinson #viral
Social media is taking on the roles of detective and journalist, covering more ground than both the FBI, which continues to take a nonchalant stance, and traditional media, which leans toward sensationalism over substance. When neither public service entity offers satisfactory public service, where can people turn to actually create change? The answer, it seems, is that they must turn to themselves.
The internet is a vast and often dark frontier, but it’s a small comfort to know that many are using its power for good. It is certainly far from ideal in terms of missing men and women of color getting the media attention they deserve, but turning toward each other in this way might be the next step in changing that.
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