Former ‘My Favorite Murder’ fans recount past controversies and question ethics of top-charting true-crime podcast in series of TikToks

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Editor’s Note: This article contains mentions of sexual violence. Please take care while reading, and note the helpful resources at the end of this story.

The podcast My Favorite Murder (MFM) has been a cultural touchstone since shortly after its launch in January 2016. Two years after the mainstream success of another true crime podcast, Serial, co-hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark wanted to do something more conversational and humorous about the true crime stories they already obsessed over.

Amazon paid more than $100 million for exclusive distribution and advertising rights to MFM in 2022. The show was named by Forbes as the second highest-earning podcast, with 35 million monthly downloads and the co-hosts reportedly raking in $15 million in 2019.

While MFM has had its fair share of controversies, the last week has seen an uptick in TikTok users — both former fans of the podcast and first-time listeners — who are questioning the ethics of making entertainment and profiting off of murder and other crimes.

Who are the hosts of My Favorite Murder?

The hosts have more comedy-focused backgrounds — Kilgariff was a writer and stand-up comedian for a number of years, and Hardstark was a host on the Cooking Channel and a contributor to Drunk History — so the podcast itself is advertised as “true crime comedy.”

Unlike other popular true crime podcasts — such as Crime Junkie, Sword and Scale and Anatomy of Murder MFM is supposed to seem like eavesdropping on two friends’ conversation at a party, according to the Washington Post.

The hosts make jokes, share personal stories and go off on conversational tangents throughout each episode. Their facts, as Andrea DenHoed described it in the New Republic in 2019, their facts are “from TV shows and various not-strictly-authoritative online sources; they’re loose with the details [and] riff freely.”

“More often they share the kinds of stories you see on late-night news, in which the victim is usually white, female and, as they describe her, a ‘badass,’ and the perpetrator is ‘a f****** monster,'” DenHoed wrote.

The fans have been dubbed “Murderinos” and there are almost 200,000 members in its Reddit group. There is merch sold on MFM‘s website with sweatshirts that say “F*** Politeness” and “Stay Out of the Forest” and a neon water bottle that reads “This Might Be Luminol,” referencing the chemical commonly used at crime scenes to find blood stains.

What are people saying about My Favorite Murder on TikTok?

Jenn Jackson, a TikTok user who described herself as a “ground-floor fan” of MFM, said that initially she liked that the hosts would consider commenter corrections about mental health and sex work. Jackson also liked the catchphrases from the show that was printed on the show’s merch.

But Jackson started to have a problem with the show when they released a T-shirt in the summer of 2017 with an abbreviation of the show’s sign-off, “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered” alongside the image of a tipi.

“Let’s just remember that this was a podcast about true crime and murder and that the imagery that was being shown was Indigenous imagery,” Jackson said. “All over social media, people were basically saying, ‘Hey, this is really insensitive for you to use Indigenous imagery when we have this information about murdered and missing Indigenous women.'”

Jackson specifically referenced a 2019 study that found homicide was the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women in 2017, the same year the MFM shirt came out. The conversation surrounding the merchandise, according to Jackson, was split between pointing out how insensitive the imagery was and others defending the imagery because MFM is a “murder podcast.”

“As somebody who’s been a fan since the very beginning, you have absolutely no idea how often people are like, ‘How could you be offended by this? It’s a murder podcast,'” she said.

Jackson added that other so-called microaggressions were happening in various MFM-branded Facebook groups, which Jackson said she knew Kilgariff and Hardstark looked at because they referenced the groups on podcast episodes.

“When they finally address it on the show, it’s incredibly underwhelming,” Jackson said about the tipi shirt backlash and Facebook group in-fighting. Jackson paraphrased what she remembers the podcast response being like, alleging that Kilgariff said something along the lines of “We do not condone racism.”

Jackson added that she remembered Hardstark saying that they would get rid of the tipi merch because of the backlash — but they didn’t.

“It stays up for a very long time,” Jackson said, referring to the months following, “and was still available for sale.”

Jackson also said Hardstark was in charge of the MFM Instagram account at the time and alleged Hardstark deleted comments that were negative about how they handled the tipi merch situation.

“Karen and Georgia didn’t say anything that was outwardly racist,” Jackson continued. “But some of the comments [Hardstark] liked…”

In a screenshotted comment Jackson pulled up in her TikTok, Hardstark appears to have liked a comment from another user who wrote, “LOOK, you uncultured dummies — If you think the tent image belongs solely to Native Americans’ as a tipi, then you can just be pissed at yourself for being so ignorant.”

Credit:<a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:@chopped_livr / TikTok;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link "> @chopped_livr / TikTok</a>

In the Facebook group, Hardstark addressed liking the comment and finally addressed the tipi shirt, writing, “When we originally approved the tipi design, it somehow didn’t cross our minds that it is cultural appropriation.” Hardstark concluded the post by announcing she and Kilgariff would donate $10,000 to the First Nations Development Institute, an organization that works to improve economic conditions for Native Americans through grants and advocacy.

Credit:<a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:@chopped_livr / TikTok;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link "> @chopped_livr / TikTok</a>

“It took two months of ignoring and silencing and then doubling down and arguing and gaslighting and they get to that,” Jackson said, referring to the donation. “The My Favorite Murder fan groups on Facebook remain some of the most hostile, toxic places on Facebook. And I stand by that.”

In The Know reached out to the MFM hosts for comment and have not heard back.

My Favorite Murder host accused of inappropriate social media posts

Lara Whitley, who describes herself in her TikTok bio as a “reformed true crime podcaster,” told her following that she’d been working on a deep dive about MFM for a couple of months. Whitley, like Jackson, was an early fan of the podcast and also a member of the Facebook group. Whitley said the group was initially a “really positive and supportive environment.”

“I get it, I love to talk about really f***** up s*** that happened to me too,” Whitley said. “But the older I get and the more perspective I gain, everything that this sort of genre has become is really icky and gross.”

Whitley covered another incident with Hardstark and Instagram. In 2019, Hardstark had been gifted dolls she thought had been “vintage” and “used during the satanic panic” by a fan who identified as a forensic interviewer. The dolls are — to this day — used by victims of child sexual abuse.

A Redditor in the MFM group screenshotted the post before Hardstark took it down and included her caption.

“She took pictures with them and posted about how, and I quote, ‘gleeful’ she was about it,” Whitley said. “Why she ever thought it would be OK to say these things is beyond me.”

“I’m a sick, sick person,” Hardstark had written. “I almost started crying with glee … I love old awful things.”

Hardstark apologized for the post and in response donated to the Joyful Heart Foundation, a charity dedicated to educating and advocating against child abuse.

The controversy around Billy Jensen

But Whitley said there is one issue that she believes is leading to the podcast’s decline: the controversy surrounding Billy Jensen, an investigative journalist and the former host of the podcast The Murder Squad.

Jensen was accused by a number of women of sexual harassment and assault and the podcast subsequently ended. The Murder Squad was under the Exactly Right network, which was founded by Kilgariff and Hardstark, and an employee from the network was one of the accusers.

“This employee immediately reported this incident to their supervisors and they really did nothing and just continued to make her work with him,” Whitley said. “Now, they’re clearly not responsible for his actions, however, they are responsible for their inability to take action in a situation like that.”

Rolling Stone reported at the time that “Jensen has a history of touching women inappropriately” and reached out to Jensen about the matter, to which he replied with an apology and told the publication “he has a drinking problem, coupled with mental health issues.”

“Exactly Right, the podcasting company founded by hosts of the mega-popular My Favorite Murder, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, offered only the ‘end of an era’ tweet as the public statement about the decision to let Jensen go and end Murder Squad(?) and did not respond to Rolling Stone’s requests for comment,” the outlet wrote.

“To this day, they have never mentioned anything about the Billy Jensen situation or what happened to Murder Squad,” Whitley continued.

Why do people enjoy true crime in the first place?

It’s not clear which social media user ignited the conversation around MFM recently on TikTok, but Jackson and Whitley’s multipart series has received millions of views combined. But a question that arose when Netflix series Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was getting a lot of press is coming up again surrounding the MFM conversation: Why do people even enjoy true crime?

“I wanna just say, with My Favorite Murder coming out with being a terrible true crime podcast, what did you guys expect when you made two white women whose favorite topic is the worst moments of a human being’s life and the worst human beings of society — like, what did you expect from when they make that their living?” one TikToker asked.

Lena Derhally, a psychotherapist and best-selling true crime author for her coverage of the Chris Watts case, told In The Know that a lot of the appeal of true crime is that serves as a kind of survival guide.

“All kinds of people are drawn to true crime, but especially women, and part of this reason is, they want to learn about how crime happens so they can protect themselves,” she explained. “If we understand it, then maybe we can take the steps to help us prevent it from happening to us.”

Derhally also argued that listeners might be turned off by the “callous” nature of combining humor and true crime in a podcast like MFM.

“I think there is a subset of the true crime community that is really compassionate,” she said. But “it’s easy to make light of something or lose some sensitivity towards people or a situation when the situation is removed from your actual reality.”

‘The other Laci Peterson’

When TikToker Madison Williams decided to start analyzing true crime stories, she knew she wanted to focus on BIPOC victims and marginalized communities. And in a recent video, she explained that part of the reason she started her own channel was because of MFM.

“I fell out of love with [MFM] during the George Floyd protests,” Williams explained. The protests, which began on May 26, are considered “the largest racial justice protests in the United States since the civil rights era,” according to a CBS News report.

Williams said that, at the time, she was looking to content creators she followed to see how they were speaking out against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Then the episode on Laci Peterson came out, and that broke me,” she said. “They did a full episode on the Laci Peterson case and in the last five minutes brought up a case called — as true crimers know — she is called ‘the other Laci Peterson.'”

What Williams is referencing is the murder of 24-year-old Evelyn Hernandez in May 2002, who went missing seven months prior to Peterson’s disappearance in San Francisco. The similarities in the two cases are jarring: Hernandez was pregnant at the time of her disappearance; her boyfriend at the time was having an affair; and her 5-year-old son is still considered missing. Hernandez, who immigrated from El Salvador when she was 14 years old, was only covered four times by the San Francisco Chronicle. Peterson was covered 32 times, four of them being front-page stories.

“They squeezed in the Evelyn Hernandez case and were like, ‘It’s really f***** sad that nobody ever talks about her case,'” Williams said about MFM. “Like they don’t have one of the biggest true crime platforms that could bring awareness to her case?”

How do victims’ loved ones and families feel about true crime content?

Another part of the ethical issues around creating true crime podcasts, Derhally argues, is that most of the relatives and loved ones of victims do not want to participate.

“It goes without saying that anything that would even resemble making light of a horrific death would deeply upset the people directly connected to the event,” Derhally said. “How do we create or consume true crime content in a way that makes it respectful of victims and their families?”

When Netflix released the Dahmer series in 2022, the reaction was polarizing for this reason. Netflix initially tagged the series “LGBTQ” and didn’t comment on the backlash from victims’ families. TikTokers made fan edits, shipped Dahmer with one of his victims and even bragged about being “unfazed” by the violence depicted in the series.

A TikTok user who goes by Trish said that that was part of the problem she had with MFM. The first and only episode she listened to was about a massacre that happened in her hometown of Piketon, Ohio, in 2016.

“I went to school with these people. I know this family — I knew this family — I knew everyone involved,” Trish said. “This devastated the community that I came from.”

Trish said when she heard an “incredibly popular” true crime podcast was doing an episode on the murders, she wanted to listen.

“It made me so sick to my stomach,” she recalled.

“The way that they were joking, the way that they didn’t do — if they did any research, I would be f***ing shocked,” she alleged. “They got four different names wrong. The way that they were joking about everything, the way that they were — it was horrendous.”

My Favorite Murder fans react to TikTok creators’ allegations

The MFM Reddit group has also been sharing some of the TikToks and discussing how to move forward with being fans of the podcast.

“I’ve seen multiple creators making multiple-part TikTok series about MFM just today. It seems to have come out of nowhere,” one fan wrote. “I understand some of their points, but other things make it sound like they’ve never actually listened to an episode and are taking it way too seriously.”

“People still don’t get the true crime comedy thing,” another Redditor wrote. “Karen and Georgia have said this so many times. They’re not joking about murder. They’re just funny people who happen to be talking about murder.”

Derhally suggested that a reason why people may be so defensive about MFM combining humor and true crime is because it’s a way to “take the edge off the severity of it all.”

“Humor is a coping mechanism,” she said. “We can consume this content that we are morbidly fascinated by while also being able to remove ourselves from it emotionally so we can tolerate it.”

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The post Former ‘My Favorite Murder’ fans recount past controversies and question ethics of top-charting true-crime podcast in series of TikToks appeared first on In The Know.

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