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The internet has given us the gift of instant entertainment, but this Pandora’s box is also home to violent horrors lurking with every click. Netflix’s three-part documentary series Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer explores what happens when these two worlds meet. The title of the show refers to the unwritten rule that supposedly exists for online content creators: don’t harm cats.
Cats are internet royalty to the degree that some have even achieved celebrity status. Websites like YouTube are saturated with cute, funny, and bizarre cat videos that make up some of the most viewed content online. The documentary reveals the consequences of breaking this rule in a case that begins with videos of shocking animal abuse and escalates into a full-blown murder investigation.
It follows the story of a group of Facebook users turned amateur sleuths who spent 18 months hunting a killer after a series of cat snuff films were uploaded to YouTube. The Facebook investigators find themselves in an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with violent psychopath Luka Magnotta, whose videos of animal torture are merely a prelude to murderous plans involving human victims. The documentary is narrated from the perspective of two Facebook users who were key players in the online investigation. We experience the case entirely through their stories and become completely immersed in their online world through point-of-view recreations of their Facebook activity, visually placing us in the position of the investigators.
The storyline that unfolds is fascinating as Magnotta deliberately toys with them, creating a breadcrumb trail of clues and misdirection through YouTube videos and fake social media accounts. These instances of online deception are the most compelling moments of the series. Much like the investigators, the viewer becomes engrossed in Magnotta’s complex web and equally finds themselves desperate for answers.
The true crime genre satisfies our desire to be both intrigued and disturbed by the killer, but in Don’t F**k With Cats the investigators also take centre stage. They appear to be ordinary likeable people, but their behaviour is obsessive and reveals the frightening reality that there is no such thing as online privacy. They go to extreme lengths to identify Magnotta and manage to track his location by analysing objects in his videos with the help of everyday resources like Google Maps and Craigslist. The manner of their investigation also lays bare the ugliness of an online mob mentality that can ensue when content provokes widespread outrage. The investigators are determined to stop Magnotta, but the lines between investigation, obsession, justice, and malice often become blurred.
The series offers everything you would expect from a true crime documentary. It’s gripping, disturbing, and fascinating in equal measure but it also forces us to reflect, particularly on the issue of complicity. It raises the question of whether engaging with problematic content online makes us complicit, even if we are expressing our outrage towards it. It also asks us to consider if we as viewers are complicit in furthering the killer’s notoriety by watching the documentary.
Another elephant in the room is whether the series capitalises on the taboo of animal cruelty to tell a good story. The shock value of killing kittens is the USP and I couldn’t help thinking that the series loses its edge when Magnotta graduates to killing people. What does this say about me as a fan of true crime? Are we all just looking for new taboos to shock us, and what role does the documentary play in this? I don’t have the answers, but Don’t F**k With Cats certainly makes you think.