Unmaking a Murderer: Technological Affordances and the Emergence of Virtual Audience Investigative Communities


  • Michael Krieger


After the release of Serial in 2014, and Making a Murderer in 2015, the internet was abuzz with discussion about the cases chronicled in these two groundbreaking pieces of media. However, there was another group of individuals so inspired by the stories of Adnan Syed, Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, that they took to cyberspace to advocate for these men whom they viewed as victims of an overzealous or even corrupt criminal justice system. This essay examines how the convergence of several new technologies- new modes of distribution, streamlined production processes, new means of organizing on the web- facilitated the rise of a new type of digital collective, Virtual Audience Investigative Communities (VAICs). Like other fan communities, VAICs are a type of digital community that materializes in response to media texts. While they are structurally similar to traditional mediated fan communities, the primary distinction is that the vast majority of fan communities revolve around fictional texts. In the case of these VAICs, Making a Murderer was merely the genesis for a wide range of investigative and advocacy activities that went far beyond what was presented in the ten-hour documentary series. In these communities, members tactically theorize, collaborate, and collectively deploy their available resources and capabilities in an attempt solve crimes or correct a perceived injustice depicted in particular piece of media. This essay chronicles the history and development of virtual audience investigative and advocacy communities from obscure cultural phenomena to an established domain of fan practice.