Hundreds of thousands of internet users are gathering to try and solve one of the most famous criminal cases of recent years.
The recent release of Netflix’s Making a Murderer documentary — which follows the conviction of Wisconsin-born Steven Avery for murder — has led a huge number of people to discussing the case and TV show on Reddit. Many online detectives are working together in an attempt to re-examine the case.
But given previous controversial investigations, such as those around the Boston bombing, some warn that the sharing of speculation or discoveries online could cause problems. And many posts simply attempt to deal with the confusion of watching the programme — through the spreading of memes or of expressions of disgust with events.
Making a Murderer’s 10 episodes follow the overturning of the conviction of Steven Avery for rape. The series shows how he then went on to be arrested and sent to prison for murder, in court hearings that have been criticised by some involved in the case.
Many of the group’s posts are expressing that frustration, arguing over the evidence that was used to convict Avery. The group particularly turns its sights on those who are prominently featured in the documentary, including the police and lawyers involved in the case.
Some posts are simply different users expressing how exasperating the series is to watch.
“Anyone else wanna give Steve Avery's mom a big hug?” asks the title of one post. “Is society hopelessly broken?” another pleads.
According to Reddit’s own traffic figures, nearly 450,000 different people viewed the page in December. That month there was almost 4 million pageviews.
Timeline: Steven Avery's convictions
Timeline: Steven Avery's convictions
1/5 1985: Steven Avery is falsely convicted of raping a Penny Beernsten
She was jogging along the shore of Lake Michigan when she was threatened with a knife and attacked. Ms Beernsten identified Avery as her rapist from a line-up that did not include the actual attacker.
2/5 2003: Conviction overturned
Avery's 32-year prison sentence was overturned after DNA testing by the Wisconsin Innocence Project proved his innocence and found a hair from Gregory Allen. He was convicted of the rape and Avery was released.
3/5 2004: Avery files federal lawsuit against Manitowoc County police
A Wisconsin Department of Justice investigation found police had committed no criminal offences or ethics violations, sparking a lawsuit from Avery seeking $36 million compensation.
4/5 2005: Avery is arrested for Teresa Halbach's murder
His Avery Auto Salvage business was the freelance photographer's last appointment of 31 October. She was reported missing four days later and police later found her car, bones, teeth and belongings at the site. Avery pleaded not guilty but was sentenced to life in prison in 2007.
5/5 201: Netflix releases Making a Murderer
The 10-episode documentary came after Avery's conviction was upheld in a 2011 appeal.
Those figures relate only to the forum’s page itself, and not the links posted there that show up elsewhere on Reddit.
Forums like Reddit have had mixed success in previous attempts to do online detective work. After the Boston bombing, for instance, users of the site were criticised for being over-hasty in apportioning blame, and apparently pointing the finger at people who in fact were innocent, as well as hindering the official investigations.
The Making a Murderer Reddit has rules apparently written partly to stop such problems happening again.
Those include a ban on exposing the personal information of anyone that wasn’t included in the show, for instance.
“No doxing,” the rules read. “Do not share personal information not included in the podcast or other official source.”
The group also bans “witch-hunting” of any person or company involved in the case.
“Any ‘call to arms’ against any person, online user, company, etc are NOT allowed,” the rules read. “Anything hinting at this will be removed and the users banned.”
Those behind the Subreddit have also set it up so that personal information is kept off the site. That includes an automatic filtering system that keeps out new accounts or those that have a bad reputation on the site, until they have been vetted by an established moderator.
The site’s page also features a disclaimer, which points out that the views expressed there aren’t those of administrators or the owners of Reddit, or of legal authorities. It also says that “suggestions concerning call to action or legal action of any kind are to be judged on a case by case basis and any dissenting opinions”, and warns against taking anything mentioned as being of a “legal nature”.
“It is to be assumed that the individual(s) who created this subreddit and those that partake in a casual manner are doing so of their own volition and are simply exercising their right to free speech, especially within the context of an ongoing narrative/investigation,” the administrators write.