It started with an innocuous Tweet. I wrote “Solid piece on #AmandaKnox and #RaffaeleSollecito” and then linked to an opinion piece by Andrew Gumbel in The Guardian. Within seconds, the trolls arrived. By trolls, I mean people who sow “discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”
There are an uncertain number of people who are so singularly obsessed with Amanda Knox’s case that they virtually slapped me around again and again for these six words and one link. Yes, Twitter is a public forum, and yes, everyone is entitled to his and her own opinions… but why are people so obsessed with a seven year old murder case?
The person who inadvertently explained the problems with trolls to me best is my friend Rob, who works as a writer’s assistant and writer on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. When he told me about a recent episode he was working on, he said, “Of course we’ll find the accused perpetrator guilty in the end. The audience loves that. They root for the bad guys to get convicted.” Is Amanda Knox’s case one where legal-show-obsessed people have confused fiction and reality?
In the narrative of Amanda Knox, Amanda has been portrayed as the bad guy, especially for people in the United Kingdom, who saw the trashy, headline-driven press in The Daily Mail, The Sun, and The Daily Mirror that target “working class” citizens of that former empire. With salacious claims of “Foxy Knoxy, the girl who had to compete with her own mother for men” and other horrible, completely false headlines, eventually, anyone who didn’t bother to read the crap in the articles and only read the headlines, might believe that they had some validity, simply from seeing them over and over and over again.
I wanted to learn more about these trolls. Trolls exist in the public forums of the Internet, but who are they really? As Chris Mooney wrote in his must-read article “Internet Trolls Really Are Horrible People,” he details how narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopathic, and sadistic personalities exist and even thrive on the internet, in larger part because of the anonymity afforded to us in our internet playland.
A question that I’ve asked the trolls who have harassed me on Twitter is, “What other cases are you working on?” I ask this because I really don’t understand: Why are people so singularly obsessed with achieving “justice for Meredith Kercher,” when people are dying in Africa, Syria, Baghdad, and a million other places every single day?
One theory that I have is that these people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. For them, fighting for justice against an attractive Caucasian female who was proclaimed to be a murderer might be the embodiment of this cause célèbre. Is this a case of individuals living out their personal biases against the “pretty girl who wronged them” through Amanda?
There is an inherent bias by the media and experts (who are paid for their opinions) to jump to conclusions too early. This clearly happened n Amanda’s case. As Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker in 2005, “People who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons. They have the same repertoire of self-justifications that everyone has, and are no more inclined than anyone else to revise their beliefs about the way the world works, or ought to work, just because they made a mistake.”
Unfortunately, many of the haters out there – I wish there were a better word for them, but despite my many attempts to read through the thesaurus to find one, there isn’t – they listened to the pundits who opined early on in this case and took their words as the gospel.
I, like many others, have long been intrigued by Amanda Knox’s plight. She was first arrested in Italy in 2007 while I was a student in the United Kingdom. I followed her case in the news until early 2011 when I was able, thanks to a fellowship from the European Union, to pursue some independent investigative journalism. I booked a flight to Perugia, Italy, with an open mind, determined to find out what actually happened to Meredith Kercher on November 1, 2007.
Very quickly, I learned that the narrative in British media, the one detailed by prosecutors, was preposterous and false. In essence, the prosecutor, Giulano Mignini, overstepped his bounds and basically created a theory that Kercher was murdered in a sex game gone bad, a theory that he learned about from his trusted psychic who’s now, thankfully, dead. Mignini had made other prior errors in his prosecutorial work and had been sanctioned for his actions, such as when he sent journalist Mario Spezi to prison, which is well-documented in The Monster of Florence, the book that Spezi co-authored with American writer Douglas Preston.
Soon after I arrived in Italy and spoke with some thirty people about the case, not a soul thought Amanda and Rafaelle were guilty. They were simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with a power-hungry prosecutor running the show.
For the record, it was Rudy Guede, the man who was convicted alongside Knox and Sollecito, who murdered Meredith, alone. As author Candace Dempsy, who has written a book on the case told me, “There was no rush to judgment when it came to arresting Rudy Guede. Investigators found Guede’s handprint on a pillowcase found under the victim’s body. The fingerprints led police to their suspect. The evidence of Guede’s guilt is irrefutable and should have been more than sufficient to secure a life sentence. Guede admitted he was in Meredith’s room at the time of the attack. His DNA, along with Meredith’s blood, was found on Meredith’s purse. His shoeprints, set in Meredith’s blood, were found in the bedroom and in the hallway leading out the front door.”
Furthermore, it likely that the real murder weapon has never been found, as Guede likely disposed of it at some point during his train ride to Germany, where he fled after committing the murder.
Occasionally, during the past week since I wrote the Tweet Heard Around My Twittersphere, my attempts to not get angry at the haters failed. I’d write some tweets back to them, meant to rile them up, detailing that 1. The haters probably didn’t speak Italian (I do…) and 2. The haters probably weren’t at Amanda and Raffaele’s trial (I was, as a journalist…).
Let’s presume that these folks on the Internet aren’t obsessed with Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Let’s even assume that they have all of their mental faculties in place. Now then, why is it that these people care so much about a grisly incident that occurred in Italy 7 years ago?
I admittedly haven’t read Nina Burleigh’s book “Amanda Knox: The Fatal Gift of Beauty” but I suspect she was onto something when she created this title. I wonder if these haters were ever talked down to or made fun of by a person who was more physically attractive than them. Heck, I wonder if they ever wanted to study abroad, but for some reason, perhaps financial, perhaps they didn’t do well enough in school, perhaps their parents didn’t let them, they were unable to go. In the end, there are reasons why a person would be jealous of Amanda Knox if they jumped to conclusions about her.
In reality, Amanda Knox worked at not one, not two, but three jobs while she was a full-time student in Seattle to be able to afford to travel to Italy, but of course that element of the story is missing from most narratives.
There are certainly passionate people who are still interested on both sides of Amanda and Raffaele’s case. Unfortunately, people like Ann Coulter write articles (ahem, hello pundits with no knowledge of the case) that have never been fact checked, and as the great Mark Twain said, ”A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Even while writing this piece, I have fallen into an accidental rage. When I read that a pornographer offered Amanda $20K to star in one of his films, and a supposed news organization like Newsweek’s The Daily Beast reports this as news, my blood pressure shot through the roof. Imagine if Amanda was your daughter, sister, wife, or your friend, and she’s just been to hell and back. Your blood would boil too.
Jealousy. Anonymity. Bitterness. Cause celebre. People like to feel involved in the news. They like to appear as experts to their family and friends. Or more likely, as I suspect, a lot of folks believed Mignini’s initial narrative, and then dug in their heels and wanted to save faccia, the Italian term for saving face.
For example, take Jack Gleeson, who had the (mis)fortune of playing the character Joffrey on the HBO hit series Game of Thrones. Gleeson has suffered frequent harassment by people on the street because they passionately hated his ‘Game of Thrones’ character. Now imagine how bad that is for Amanda. This is just another case of the masses rooting against the bad guys, and unfortunately, yet in Amanda’s cause, as I outlined above, they’ve simply chosen the wrong bad guy to root against.
Amanda has responded with strength and intelligence to the people who have created hateful Facebook groups against her, like Perugia Vi Odia (Perugia Hates You), and it is my hope that one day her world will be free of the misplaced hatred that has already been lofted upon her for years.