Gabby Petito story boosted by social media, true-crime craze

Gabby Petito lived her life on social media, and her disappearance inspired a wave of social media sleuths determined to help find her. 

At the end of the day, two components combine to make the case of Gabby Petito the perfect national mystery: this country’s obsession with true crime and of course, the social media of it all. 

Right now it’s not hard to find someone who knows about Gabby Petito.

"I honestly hope that she gets justice. It’s really upsetting."

"That poor girl, it’s just horrible what happened."

"It kind of seems natural that there would be a lot of interest in this case because there was a lot of interest in her, to begin with."

The young, beautiful woman had been documenting her cross-country road trip with her fiancé on social media. Since her disappearance, her accounts have become fodder for regular folks at home trying to understand what happened to her. 

Experts say social media is changing the way crimes are investigated. 

"It’s becoming this extension of the surveillance state where a lot of things are documented and we’ve got video footage of it. I think this is going to have a big impact when it comes to crime moving forward," said University of Florida social media professor Andrew Selepak.

Years ago when someone went missing, people didn’t have this kind of access to their personal lives. But now they do, and that’s inherently drawing more people into the case. 

"A lot of people were hooked just because they were on this adventure but then you add this mystery to it and there you go," said licensed psychologist Dr. Deborah Day.

"Thousands of thousands of followers as a social media influencer, and what that essentially does is that allows a lot of breadcrumbs to be left," said Selepak. 

It’s even led to more tips. Someone in the Panhandle captured a grainy trail camera photo, speculating the man in the photo may be Brian Laundrie, Petito's fiancé and person of interest in the case. They posted it to Facebook, and now that image is on TMZ.

"What we’re seeing again is this sort of celebrification of culture where people aren’t necessarily trying to do everything they can to help solve a crime. A lot of time they are looking for likes," said Selepak. 

"We’ve been drawn into this as a new form of entertainment. They can now participate. They can live out some of their dreams," said Dr. Day.

But in some ways, experts say with social media as a form of surveillance, it could help solve crimes. 

"There might be an aspect of crowdsourcing crime, and this might actually lead to better tips and better information for law enforcement to go off of." 

Deputies say so far, that social media post with the trail cam picture is not leading to any solid intel. Investigators say they've received tips from social media users that put Laundrie everywhere from hitchhiking in Alabama to boating in the Atlantic.

Watch FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.