On the murder of Mercedes Morr

If we want a safer online culture, we have to dispense with victim-blaming

It’s been difficult to read social media following the murder of Houston influencer Mercedes Morr, born Jenae Gagnier. I’m not going to link to or screenshot the comments in which she is called a “scammer” or a “whore” who deserved her fate. Trawling through them once was enough.

What I can tell you is that Mercedes was clearly a business-savvy model whose good looks appear to have attracted a deranged killer. There is one person to blame for what happened here — and that is the killer himself. There is a reason as to why I don’t want to name him. Let his name die with him. It’s Mercedes who should be remembered.

Whether you love or hate influencers and Instagram models, I think we can all agree that their work can be quite profitable, while their fame can be fickle. You maximize your visibility in this field and then you go from there. And when I see people blaming Mercedes for her death I see this as nothing other than misogyny and jealousy.

As this tweet about Mercedes has made the rounds, many people have asked me to weigh in:

I did weigh in, but I also realized that there is a lot to unpack here.

First of all, I completely agree with Ari. While I don’t know how the killer was able to find Mercedes, I’ve looked at some of her pictures from the Houston area and, sure enough, plenty of them can be geolocated by someone obsessive enough.

Look at the background here:

Look at this background as well:

You can observe different details cropping up in her posts, such as this lovely bench in the background (I don’t know if it was in her building or not, but it’s the kind of details that can add up and help a stalker, especially if they are cross-referencing her friends’ social media accounts):

Two following pictures, posted a week apart, appear to have been taken at the same pool:

Saying all of this is not the same as blaming Mercedes for her death. Mercedes was being smart! Look at her blurring the number on the door:

Notice, please, that she is not tagging locations. THIS WOMAN WAS TRYING TO BE CAREFUL.

The problem with having stalkers and a public-facing career of any kind is that you are going to have to make choices that sometimes compromise your privacy and/or safety. Influencers in particular are required to share their lives online. They’re not your standard celebrities. They attract people precisely because they seem and act more accessible. This can lead to risky situations that are STILL NOT THE INFLUENCER’S FAULT.

I’m not an influencer, but a lot of my work involves being out and about, and posting cute pictures in order to get attention for my geolocation challenges means that men will still find my address and pull creepy stunts. A man who read about me in a book earlier this year looked me up and mailed me a letter. Saying that he wanted to get to know me. You know how? Privacy is dead, that’s how. And even though I’d switched addresses recently, it still didn’t help.

The lesson we should internalize is that yes, we should try to be extra careful. But also, when someone really wants to find you — they are usually able to do that. It’s a sad fact of life, whether you’re John Lennon or a person like Mercedes.

I am always happy to teach people how to make themselves harder to be found. My contact information is at the end of this post, if you want to reach out. But as I also must point out, over and over again, that unless you live at an address that is not connected to your records, finding you is going to be possible. And you don’t need the backgrounds of Instagram photos to do the trick.

Shifting the conversation onto the perpetrators can also help. Were there people in the killer’s life who knew about a potential obsession? Were there signs? Can we do more to speak out against the normalization of online stalking? What about the fact that we are growing more and more atomized as a society, with celebrity worship sometimes standing in for real connections? Does this mean that at least some of these crimes are preventable?

We can and should do more to keep ourselves safe. But we can’t do that without acknowledging that predators will always be out there and that they often exhibit warning signs. And as for those who have victim-blamed Mercedes… Do they take care of the people in their circle? How are they helping keep women and others safe? My philosophy is that you should do more than run your mouth online. You should contribute. Or shut up.

This is why what Drake did in response to this tragedy is a good thing, and the cackling and gloating over what happened is disgusting.

If you learned something new today, please consider a paid subscription! Just $5 a month keeps this project accessible to all! If you’re allergic to subscriptions, you can also Venmo me at Natalia-Antonova-1. If you suspect you’re being stalked, hit me up at nvantonova [at] gmail (dot) com — let’s talk.