For months, TikTok users have been counting down the days until Gypsy Rose Blanchard’s release from prison. But her story— in which she served eight years of jail time after conspiring to kill her mother— has gripped internet users for almost a decade.
Having endured over 20 years of abuse by her mother, Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard, Gypsy’s story is easily one of the most recognisable cases among the internet’s true crime enthusiasts.
Throughout her childhood, Gypsy was made to believe that she was suffering from a swath of chronic illnesses including leukemia, asthma, and muscular dystrophy. Her mother even described her mental age as that of a seven-year-old.
While Dee Dee was relentless in getting her daughter the best medical care, there was just one caveat: Gypsy was healthy.
Dee Dee managed to convince doctors and specialists of her daughter’s imaginary conditions. As a result, Gypsy was forcibly wheelchair-bound (even though she could walk), prescribed heavy-duty medication, and had many unnecessary surgeries.
Experts now believe Dee Dee was suffering from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a mental disorder where caregivers feign health problems in another person, typically their child. It is speculated that Dee Dee lied about Gypsy’s health in the hopes of gaining some kind of material benefit.
And if this was indeed the case, it worked. Dee Dee was sent thousands of dollars in charitable donations and even lived in a house built by Habitat for Humanity to cater to Gypsy’s needs.
While Gypsy eventually realised that specific symptoms of her illnesses were fabricated, she couldn’t refute all of her mother’s claims. Gypsy was isolated from the outside world, having been pulled out of school at a young age and homeschooled by her mother. On top of that, how was she to question the integrity of her primary caregiver? But as Gypsy got older, she grew increasingly skeptical of Dee Dee.
Soon, their relationship fractured, and the abuse worsened. It all culminated in June 2015 when Gypsy and Nicholas Godejohn, her boyfriend whom she met on a Christian dating site, killed Dee Dee. The two hoped Dee Dee’s death would free Gypsy from the abuse so they could start a life together.
Gypsy and Nicholas were arrested just days after the murder and later received sentences of 10 years and life in prison, respectively.
Fast forward eight years, and Gypsy was freed on December 28, 2023.
The internet rallied around the now 32-year-old leading up to her discharge from prison. Edits counting down to the release date dominated the TikTok FYP, and pleas for Gypsy to appear on the Just Trish podcast soon filled comment sections.
View this post on Instagram
Since her release, she has accumulated an impressive social media following, with over 6 million followers on TikTok and Instagram. While many internet users are excited to see Gypsy thriving, others wonder why Gen Z has been so quick to embrace her. She is a convicted murderer, after all.
There is no denying that Gypsy’s history is complicated. But as internet users rush to support her, it seems they are treating her case with a certain level of nuance— something that is often lacking in the digital space.
Every time drama erupts or a creator goes viral for a hot take, it becomes clear that those who are chronically online have become allergic to nuance. As a result, more and more internet users are couching their language, offering disclaimers, and hoping they won’t offend others on platforms like TikTok.
Unfortunately, these efforts have only gone so far. Comment sections are still a stream of “whataboutisms”, with viewers ready to criticise just about anything. Even seemingly innocuous content, such as a creator sharing their pet peeves or a recipe, has become a point of contention. That isn’t even to mention more serious topics like Gypsy’s case.
It wouldn’t have been surprising if users targeted Gypsy and ran her off the app entirely. Yet, many TikTok users have opted to reserve judgment and hold space for her story, suggesting that nuance may still be alive on the short-form video app.
TikTok’s embrace of Gypsy shows the importance of context in preserving nuance and critical thought in the digital world.
Gypsy’s story is one of the first famous cases where Gen Z has seen the whole narrative unfold. Back in 2015, older Gen Z was moving into late teenagehood, and the younger cohort was entering their tween years. Although this might still seem relatively young to follow court proceedings and hearings, this demographic had extensive exposure to the case through pop culture.
In the years that followed Dee Dee’s murder, the case became the subject of numerous documentaries, true crime podcasts, and YouTube videos. Hulu even took on the story, producing a dramatised limited series called The Act in 2019.
View this post on Instagram
Having repeatedly consumed the details of the case, Gen Z had the appropriate context to critically engage with the situation— which, honestly, isn’t the usual way things go.
It’s common knowledge that TikTok tweaks the FYP based on users’ past likes and views. So, viewers usually have some background on the videos that pop up. But the algorithm also keeps users stuck in digital echo chambers, repeatedly consuming the same viewpoint and information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs.
In Gypsy’s case, Gen Z had engaged with her story through a variety of different sources before it gained TikTok virality. These non-fiction and fictionalised accounts left Gen Z relatively well-informed on the case, paving the way for more nuanced discussions surrounding Gypsy’s story.
On top of this, Gypsy’s release has come at a time when internet users are very sensitive to situations involving children.
Over the years, internet culture enthusiasts have witnessed problematic behaviour from their favourite influencers— particularly concerning their interactions with children.
TikTok users are still riling about James Charles’ continued successes after he was cancelled for allegedly “grooming” minors in 2021. Let’s not forget Colleen Ballinger, who dominated a significant portion of internet discourse last year after being accused of fostering inappropriate relationships with her young fans.
With the internet consistently rallying to protect minors, it makes sense that Gypsy would be no different.
While this context provides valuable insight into the support for Gypsy, we can’t ignore that the internet is also obsessed with true crime.
Our fascination with the macabre is long-standing; many of us can’t help but channel our inner armchair detective when delving into the stories and evidence behind a crime. However, true crime has gained unprecedented exposure online in recent years.
Creators like Eleanor Neale and Kendall Rae have embraced this type of content, amassing millions of subscribers for their videos covering popular solved and unsolved cases. The same can be said for podcasters, where shows like Crime Junkie and Serial Killers secured spots among the top 25 podcasts globally last year.
The vast majority of these videos are creators explaining the details of a case, but there is a dark side to TikTok’s true crime content. It has reached a point where users have started romanticising notorious criminals, with fan edits of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy popping up across the app.
Gypsy should, by no means, be grouped with these men. But the embrace of Dahmer and Bundy serves as a stark reminder of how easily the internet can overlook the actions of these people when their stories go viral. Gypsy, it seems, is no exception.
The fascination with true crime is about delving into a world different from our own, no matter how morbid it may be.
Though it was the extraordinary nature of Gypsy’s childhood that first hooked Gen Z, they are equally curious about her life moving forward.
Nowadays, it’s rare to watch someone being thrust into social media, especially after having limited exposure to the internet.
Sharing selfies with her husband on Instagram and creating brief face-to-camera TikTok videos, her followers are witnessing Gypsy discover social media in real-time.
Many internet users are fascinated by how she will navigate this new lifestyle, especially as she becomes a public figure and advocate for Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. This intrigue will only heighten with the release of a new Lifetime documentary and her book, Released: Conversations on the Eve of Freedom, later this month.
View this post on Instagram
All things considered, the internet should probably let Gypsy enjoy her first taste of freedom (without flooding her with “slay mama” comments). But, as is typical with everything on social media, users always want to be part of the next big thing. And right now, Gypsy has snagged the spotlight.