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Previously in Web Citations:

Cutting-Edge Coupons

The digital revolution comes to a supermarket near you.

Not Your Father's Antiwar Movement

Are these the new peaceniks? Opposition to Clinton's war has made for some very strange bedfellows.

Someone Who Cares Wants You to Know

As Emily Post might have said, sometimes anonymity is the best policy.

Wheeling and Dealing

It all comes down to this: Would you buy a used (or new) car from these Web sites?

Lifetime Achievement

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was a filmmaker who kept his distance from Hollywood. His vision appears ever more original -- and lonely.

Modem Bride

Wedding planning made so easy even your mother can handle it.

Be Fruitful and Multiply

When it comes to modern reproductive technology, many are turning to the Web for a helping hand.

Democratic Vistas

"I sing the body electric," Walt Whitman wrote. Little did he know what he was prophesying.

See the complete Web Citations Index.

All Crime, All the Time
May 6, 1999

All Crime, All the Time TEEN GETS LIFE FOR HAMMER SLAYINGS! SEPTUAGENARIAN DOCTOR CHARGED WITH SEX ABUSE! FRATERNITY MAY FACE BROTHEL CHARGES! MAN CHARGED WITH EXECUTING WIFE'S PETS! Such is the daily fare on APB Online, the CNN of crime news on the Web, offering readers up-to-the-minute reports around the clock on offenses of the most sensational kind. The site describes itself as the "source for police and crime news, information and entertainment" -- and entertainment does seem to be a large part of what APB Online is all about. Its articles focus mainly on the salacious, disturbing, or disgusting, and APB tries to disseminate its bad tidings as widely as possible. One doesn't even have to visit the site to get a crime-news fix: APB offers e-mail alerts of "911 Breaking News" and a news ticker that can be displayed at the bottom of any Web site.

The crime-as-entertainment theme is most pronounced in the "Unsolved" section, where readers are invited to try their hand at identifying the suspects in actual cases that investigators have been unable to crack. The current search is for the Green River Killer, who is thought to have murdered forty-nine women in the Seattle area during the 1980s. Readers sift through real (though scanty) evidence in their search for the murderer. They then construct a "profile," with help from John Douglas, an ex-FBI special agent who was the model for the character who profiled Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Any good leads, the site's editors say, are sent on to investigators in Washington state. The feature has spurred a lively discussion on APB's message boards, where people are trading theories on the Green River Killer's characteristics. Judging by the level of the discussion -- one person suggests that the serial killer has "serious problems with anger control" -- investigators shouldn't plan on closing the case any time soon.

All Crime, All the Time

APB's specialty is in-depth coverage of high-profile crimes such as the JonBenet Ramsey case and the Littleton, Colorado, killings. Their extensive coverage of the latter is not immune to the sensationalism that pervades the rest of the site, as when it advertises "911 Tapes from the School Massacre: Frantic recordings include gunshots in the background." Still, the news on APB is no more sensational than what is presented elsewhere. What's discomfiting about APB, though, is that it's serving an audience that seems to crave all crime news, and only crime news, twenty-four hours a day, no matter how far away or unimportant the offense. And a site that endlessly screams out things like MAN HOLDS UP STORE WITH HYPODERMIC! or ELDERLY MAN BUSTED WITH VIAGRA AND GUN! makes it easy to forget that violent-crime rates are actually the lowest they've been in more than twenty years -- and makes light of those crimes that do happen.

--Katie Bacon

Join the conversation in Post & Riposte.

More on Technology and Digital Culture in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Katie Bacon is a senior editor of Atlantic Unbound.

Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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