Much of today's public discussion on crime cases takes place on online platforms where long chains of posts are formed at high speed; speculations, analyses and complaints are written, as well as ironic, sarcastic and degrading comments. These posts provide excellent, but risky, opportunities for the writers (posters) to engage in homegrown investigations, while other writers act as instant reviewers and audiences.
The researchers at the Department of Sociology followed and observed 14 Flashback threads for several years and also interviewed 30 informants related to online crime case communities - moderators, posters, lurkers, podcasters, and journalists.
Why are the results interesting?
– These kinds of crime discussions are rarely studied as cultural phenomena in themselves, says David Wästerfors, professor of sociology with many years of experience of fieldwork and analysis.
– Usually researchers tend to either consider the discussions as if they really could solve different cases, as in crowdsourcing, or to see them as starting witch-hunts for suspects. Things like that do happen, but the discussions are simply more common, and we want to show their cultural significance.
In this study, David Wästerfors, Veronika Burcar Alm and Erik Hannerz have considered the interaction of the Flashback writers and found patterns in the rhetoric.
– This article is about crime discussions on Flashback, and shows how the interactions there form a "bumpy" path when the posters collectively try to achieve knowledge, evidence and authority regarding the various crimes that are discussed, says David Wästerfors.
The bumpiness is caused by the fact that each individual post is dependent on how it is received by the others.
– So, to understand how a person becomes an authority in a [Flashback] thread, we need to study in detail the interactions in the thread; and the same goes for understanding how a poster gets a post to look like they know what they're talking about, or how the poster looks like they are presenting evidence in the case.
– In other words, we study the practical speaking, or rhetoric, in the threads and show patterns in the rhetoric, as well as how it is built up by interactions, says David Wästerfors.
Will there be other publications on this topic in the near future?
- We are going to publish an article about a particular case, a nature photographer who was exposed as a hoax by Flashback posters and how the involvement in that case was constructed, says David Wästerfors. I will also publish a chapter in an anthology about technology and social interaction that deals with summaries of criminal cases on Flashback, that is how the cases are summarized. The summaries in particular have been shown to fulfill interesting functions and can in themselves create debate.
More on this topic:
The three researchers have also collaborated in a previous article dealing with the dramatisation of crime news on Flashback and its symbolic and affective aspects. That collaboration was led by Erik Hannerz and the article was published in Cultural Sociology in 2022.
See the article at journals.sagepub.com