The British public cannot be trusted with true crime dramas

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Content warning: This article contains mentions of stalking and sexual assault.
Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers for Baby Reindeer.

Netflix’s Baby Reindeer is the latest harrowing yet bingeable drama gripping the nation which follows comedian Donny Dunn’s ordeal with a stalker. Audiences were more shocked to find that Richard Gadd – writer, director and the actor who plays Donny – based almost the entire show on his real life experiences and therefore many of the main characters were based on real people.

I have thought for some time that the British public has a morbid curiosity with true crime and this comes with an abundance of social media detectives littering X (formerly Twitter) and my TikTok For You page.

In the show, Gadd’s character is sexually assaulted by two of the show’s characters – his stalker and a well-respected comedy writer. Within days of the show’s release, self-perceived online investigators took it upon themselves to boldly post their theories for who these characters are based on, on social media. I have two major issues with this and I am surprised I have not seen these raised more frequently.

First comes the obvious legal issues of accusing someone with a high profile of being the person that a horrifically abusive character is based on. I wouldn’t expect that the valuable hours I’ve spent ensuring I understand defamation laws for Palatinate are exactly necessary to see that posts of this nature are a ridiculously stupid idea. Therefore, it is no surprise that one person who has been hugely speculated against has already publicly stated that the police have been informed of defamatory posts against him.

It is immediately comparable to the consequences of the news coverage surrounding an unnamed BBC presenter just months ago that resulted in several BBC personalities threatening legal action against speculators online who had potentially defamed them via social media.

Richard Gadd deserves to tell his story in the way he is comfortable with, and the fact he has had the courage to not only write based on his traumatic experiences but to play the lead is very brave

My second issue comes from a moral point of view. It is very clear from the show that whoever ‘Martha’ (Dunn’s stalker) is based on suffers greatly from mental health issues. Also, from interviews by Gadd, it is not known whether the way in which her story concluded is how it did so in real life. So with this in mind, I find it difficult to understand how someone could watch this show and think that the best thing to do is to try and expose who they perceive to be this person’s true identity to the world.

The most prominent theories online do tend to carry some weight and much of them are backed up with evidence or clues, making it easy to see why a lot of users are confident in their accuracy. But should they be true, questions should be asked of Netflix and the show’s producers about what efforts were made to anonymise the identity of the characters. Afterall, it is hard to imagine that they did not foresee this type of response from such an engrossed audience who know that it is largely based on true events. However, a seemingly impromptu statement from Gadd on social media urging viewers to stop the public speculation may suggest that people have taken it further than expected.

Richard Gadd deserves to tell his story in the way he is comfortable with, and the fact he has had the courage to not only write based on his traumatic experiences but play the lead is very brave. It is possible that certain writing choices were made to point audiences in a certain direction but ultimately those who continue speculating are doing so against his public wishes and potentially landing themselves in legal trouble in the process.

Image: Netflix

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