Gabby Petito: Exploitation of a Missing Girl

By: Alayna Smith

For nearly a week, “Who is Gabby Petito” has held a spot amongst the most searched terms on Google. By now, nearly everyone has heard her name, and many can recite her story as if she was a close friend, despite never actually meeting her. Thousands of news sources have collectively decided that out of millions of events, this is what people need to hear. Or at least, this is what would bring them the most attention.

For those who have managed to escape the grasps of selective media, Gabby Petito was a young woman who spent the last year living “van life” and documenting her experiences traveling the country with her fiance on social media. In late August, contact with her parents was abruptly cut off and only a few days later her boyfriend and their van returned home without her. The case is still active, however, her body was discovered and her fiance is now on the run. While this case truly is tragic, people go missing every day. So why is Gabby Petito the name we hear? What made the media choose her?

It is easy to ask questions like this, however, finding an exact answer is far more complicated. When the case first began to blow up it was in the hands of TikTok influencers, specifically those who had an interest in “True Crime”. Influencers eventually began to realize just how many people were interested in the case, so they followed the views. Thousands of accounts began milking content from everything they could find about the case with users such as Paris Campbell releasing 50+ videos about a missing girl whom she never even met.

 As more and more traction was gained in various parts of the nation, hundreds of news stations and other nation-wide agencies took action to follow the trend, masking selfish intent behind a guise of genuine concern. While her parents begged to find their daughter, broadcasters made millions. And while the search for one girl with a clear suspect captured the attention of an entire nation, millions of other missing person cases remain untapped in people’s minds.

Most news stations are no longer sharing world events or important concepts, but instead, feeding off whichever stories will bring them the most profit. The reasoning for Gabby’s case, being the one that would decidedly rope in the most views, has the potential to be anything from the fact that she was young and relatable to sheer coincidence. Whatever it may be, people continue to search for her story and the media is still making millions by taking advantage of a tragic homicide. 

Until people learn to control their curiosity, the media will only grow more desperate for viewer’s attention. So now I ask, did you click on this article to read about exploitation in the news-media? Or did you click on this article because the title says “Gabby Petito”?

One thought

  1. The whole thing is just really sad to see. And what shocked me most is that in the state where she was found in (Wyoming) apparently over 710 indigenous women went missing in the past decade in that state alone and didn’t have as much coverage about their cases. I don’t really want to make this comment too political or “about race” but I feel perturbed when most “true crime” or news coverage focuses on white victims and perpetrators and doesn’t shine a lot of light on cases about POC or other minorities.


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