Forensic students at Penn State University work to solve fictional crimes.

Type: Documentary

Languages: English

Status: Ended

Runtime: 60 minutes

Premier: None

Crime Scene University - Crime Scene (website) - Netflix

Crime Scene is a website that presents fictional crime stories that are told through realistic case documents which can be investigated by the public. It was started in 1995 by Tom Arriola, an experimental theater director in Oxford, Mississippi, and was one of the earliest examples of an Alternate reality game, internet hoax, or superfiction. Early on it received some criticism from viewers who, after having believed it to be part of a real murder investigation, discovered that it was actually a work of fiction.

Crime Scene University - Hoax - Netflix

The controversy that led to the website's initial notoriety was very much influenced by the historical context of the mid-1990s. As Arriola explained in a television interview in 1999, “The internet in 1995... [didn’t have] any entertainment websites and so anything that you went to at that time was probably put together by a scientist or a college student and it was, for all intents and purposes, a bunch of facts.” The pragmatic nature of the early internet coupled with the website's own verisimilitude made it easy for the site's visitors to believe in its legitimacy. Additionally, there was no disclaimer anywhere on the website at the time that indicated that the crime was fictitious. So when Crime Scene was featured by the internet service Prodigy in its daily lineup, with a description noting that it featured “a real murder investigation”, controversy ensued. The increased publicity led to more visitors, and some of them began to question whether or not the investigation was real. One of the site's viewers called Prodigy's customer service line on two separate occasions and was reassured both times that the investigation was authentic. Then they called the real-life Oxford Police Department and the local newspaper, The Oxford Eagle, which was also named in the case documents, only to find out that nobody had any knowledge of the investigation. When word got out that it was all a work of fiction, many viewers were upset and they contacted local authorities and media to seek a resolution. Some viewers complained of being “ripped-off” because they were paying Prodigy's service charge of $16 an hour for internet access and they spent hours poring through the case documents. When law enforcement in Oxford caught wind of what was going on they considered whether or not they could bring charges against Arriola. But as explained by Kathleen Flinn in an article detailing the controversy, "What would they charge him with, anyway? Impersonating an officer? Fraud? Filing a “false” report? In the end, they decided he had not really broken any laws". Responding to the criticism in an interview with the aforementioned Oxford Eagle, Arriola said, “'I used to feel bad that I tricked these people and made them upset...This reminds me of when realism hit the theaters; no one knew how to react. But rules for these sort of things are not made yet. We're still teaching people the conventions of how to behave in the theater of the Web.'”

Crime Scene University - References - Netflix