I fall victim to the viral case of #JusticeforAudrey

Consequences of sensationalization and how we can make better judgement

purple lilies
5 min readApr 17, 2019

by Chantique Putri

Last week Indonesia was shocked by the case of Audrey. A 14 years old girl that framed as a victim of bully and sexual harassment. It was viral all over Twitter and Instagram, spark outrages from the netizens.

I, too, fall victim to the sensational news.

However, when more facts start to unfolds, I start to question my stance on supporting Audrey. From stories from acquaintances to the forensics report, there’s absolutely something fishy to Audrey’s case. I believe it’s not only me but also millions of people that show support to her began to change their minds.

My personal takeaways

Too quick to judge. I love how sensationalizing the case start to bring support and attention to the issue of bullying. However, it also highlights the downside of Indonesian citizen: we’re being supportive without being well informed. The fact that the case is sensational also contributed to how we shaped our opinions too quick without rationalizing the facts properly. I’m pretty sure we enraged by the bullying and harassment. How the case was presented was very persuasive and we can’t deny how we fall victim to our own sympathy. Whoever that start the petition and post really know how to frame the perfect narrative to bait our support for Audrey. Consequently, it also trapped people to frame and think the worst of the accused. The netizens blamed the accused ruthlessly and, sadly, participating in bullying them.

Which lead me to…

The drawback of Sensationalism

Sensationalism is nothing new. From Tonya Harding to O.J. Simpson to Elian Gonzalez to Ahok, we have seen forms of sensationalism for a long time. Despite how sensationalism is a term mostly used in mainstream media (TV and newspaper outlets), to some extent, I believe that the definition is also relevant to social media. Sensationalism can be found everywhere one looks in terms of social media because people are able to sensationalize actions and instances that would have originally been small and irrelevant but were blown into something far more complex and severe (Gui, 2017).

The “boy who cried wolf” effect. Lowe (2016) studied the effect of sensational content within the media and how it desensitizes its audience. As the media feed people sensations, society starts to less and less sympathetic.

“If the latest mass shooting doesn’t move you to cry or to protest, that’s probably because you may be losing a normal emotional reaction to an event that is growing more common every day, according to psychological experts, who call this feeling desensitization

Although the content is still shocking, audiences are becoming more and more disconnected with the content that they are viewing because they are being overwhelmed with too much content.

From Audrey’s case, we have to suffer the consequences of people start to become desensitize of such contents. Evidence being lines of distrust and disgust after they learn about the facts of the case.


Distrust is the confident expectation that another individual’s motives, intentions, and behaviors are sinister and harmful to one’s own interests. In interdependent relationships, this often entails a sense of fear and anticipation of discomfort or danger. Distrust naturally prompts us to take steps that reduce our vulnerability in an attempt to protect our interests.
Lewicki & Tomlinson (2003)

Sensationalization will impose these constant questions of who can be trusted and who can’t. Why it’s inherently bad though? It’s going to be relatively harder for us to organize support when we urgently needed it because people are deterred to trust such contents.

Future impact

The consequences, however, will not show it ugly face now. It will later. If there’s sensational case arises, people will likely respond with negative skepticism. Is this going to be another lie? I have been fooled once i will not be fooled twice. My pessimistic assumption will be people will not care anymore and dismiss it, while the optimistic side of me hopes that people will look for more information and show support.

In the worst case scenario, UGM rape victim that desperately need advocacy perhaps will not receive the same viral support. If we assessing the context of bullying and sexual harassment victims, they’re (most of the time) reluctant to report or pursuing the case as it was perceived as a losing fight.

Noted that we don’t know who’s wrong and right until there’s an investigation process. Through attracting attention with sensationalizing will boost the investigation process because the law enforcement knows that they’re under watchful eyes of the society.

What can we learn

Be objective. I guess in the moment of anger, the least that we can do when we see such viral content is assessing objectively. Our premature assumptions should be based on informed and rational decisions making. Which in line with nata.zhong that capture my thoughts perfectly

Take things with a grain of salt and never stop to ask questions (don’t overdo it though). It’s also our responsibility to educate those who are more susceptible to exaggerations or half-ass content put out by news outlets, even influencers, and etc.

Be forgiving. One case should not put an end to your sympathy for viral contents. Give the benefit of the doubt is the least that we can do until we know the objective truth that concluded from the criminal justice process. In the end of the day, we have the right and (to some extent) duty to participate in check and balance towards what’s going on around us. Because that’s the only way we can create change.

Another important thing the main source of the problem is the justice system and how they choose to, at the moment, deal with the situation. Hating and damning those girls do not do anything but feed the attention the obviously enjoy. It really won’t teach them a lesson that way. It’s because the justice system is currently doing nothing because they are afraid of ruining the future for those high school girls. This is true for everything you see on the media these days too in regards to everything, really. Take things with a grain of salt and never stop to ask questions (don’t overdo it though).