The week of February 21, 2016

Hello from the dark side

By Jesse Hicks

The Internet, you may have heard, is a big place. That means it contains a multitude of dark corners, the kinds of places you rarely think of and never visit, but where human beings gather nonetheless. In this issue of the Kernel, we’re peeking into those corners.

First, Rick Paulas interviews Davin Gideon, a moderator of the subreddit SanctionedSuicide. “I noticed that there were a lot of people who were very frustrated about being silenced by the public at large for trying to discuss suicide,” Gideon says; he wanted to create what he calls a “pro-choice” alternative to forums focused solely on suicide prevention. He believes it’s valuable to have a space in which people can honestly and openly discuss the question of suicide. The only rules are no sharing of personal info, no depictions of graphic acts, and no discussion of suicide methods. The result is a conversation that’s by turns philosophical—on the abstract questions of living and dying—and confessional, revealing the innermost thoughts and feelings of people looking for a way out.    

Paulas spent a lot of time in the darker Web for this issue: His second story dives into the world of conspiracy theorists, but not your run-of-the-mill JFK assassination buffs or 9/11 truthers. No, he went down the rabbit hole with the people who believe international pop superstar Katy Perry is actually murdered beauty pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey. The theory’s as outlandish as you would expect, with “evidence” including a creepily slow superimposition of Perry’s face over Ramsey’s and the fact that they both knew the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.” More importantly, though, Paulas teases out how the Perry-Ramsey story is symptomatic of a particular kind of conspiratorial worldview—one that often seems much more widespread than we’d hope.

And finally, Chris Peak looks at the story of Maura Murray, a college student who disappeared from a deserted road in New England more than 12 years ago. The case has seemingly gone cold, but that hasn’t stopped a collection of Internet sleuths—including a true-crime author and a pair of podcast hosts—from trying to crack the mystery.

Enjoy the issue.

Photo via Russell Lee/Wikipedia (Public domain) | Remix by Max Fleishman