Images of birthday cakes and babies, animals and sunsets, the events of our lives, big and small, stream across social platforms day and night like neon highways. Sharing the events of our lives is now as quick as drawing a breath, or quicker, like blinking.
On Wednesday, former reporter Vester Flanagan posted an event from his life to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. But this was different. Moments before, he had gunned down two journalists doing their jobs on a beautiful summer morning, and he had to let the world know about it — and let them see it — on social media, almost live. He was wearing a GoPro-like device for just that reason, to catch “the moment.”
How far are we going to be dragged down as a culture by images of real and pretend violence?
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And that moment brought an ethical dilemma for media, social and otherwise, and for every human being. To show or not. To watch or not.
There’s an old adage in news: If it bleeds, it leads. The tabloids go bloody; the local news goes bloody. And there’s a reason: We click when it’s sick. Sad but true. We’re rubber-neckers.
“Social deviance is another underlying characteristic that helps drive sharing of news on social media,” writes Nick Diakoupolous on Fastcolabs.com in a piece entitled “The Surprising Role of Social Deviance in Viral News.” And he should know: He co-authored a study for Columbia School of Journalism about the intersection of social sharing and deviance.
His video also shows him opening fire. Later that morning, Flanagan posted the video to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Flanagan, who shot and killed photographer Adam Ward and reporter Alison Parker, videotaped himself approaching the two young professionals and their interview subject as they were conducting an on-air interview. His video also shows him opening fire. Later that morning, he posted the video to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Before that, he used Twitter to post disparaging tweets about the two journalists prior to the attack, complaining that Ward reported him to the human resources department after working with him just once. Flanagan also accused Parker of making racist comments about him.
Unlike television, where video must go through several editors and decision-makers, and judgments must be made about audience-appropriate content, video posted to social media is faster, and initially filter-free. Criminals, misfits and deviants flourish, reveling in the sharing of criminality.
“This is only going to increase. More and more people are going to share what they are doing.”
“This is only going to increase. More and more people are going to share what they are doing in terms of criminal activity. More people are going to brag, more people are going to take videos,” Art Jipson, director of Criminal Justice Studies at University of Dayton, told WDTN.com.
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Platform content administrators must rush to make decisions after the content is live, but in many cases, those who are mentally ill, dangerous or deranged are way ahead. They know their videos will get clicks.
“I was shocked, in the sense of not having thought about the emotional impact of this kind of near real-time communication,” Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, told Computerworld.com about the Roanoke murders.
“But in retrospect, I’m not surprised,” he said. “It was inevitable. Some criminals, especially spree killers and hostage takers, want to tell the world about their grievances, or, in some cases, just to boast. Using current self-publishing technology is just the logical outcome.”
Now, like a future-world movie, murder is filmed as it happens, and is broadcast to the world minutes later. Those with narcissistic personality disorder, which Flanagan seems to have had, see social media as a way to both preen and destroy, in 140 characters or less.
Those with narcissistic personality disorder, which Flanagan seems to have had, see social media as a way to both preen and destroy, in 140 characters or less.
The Mayo Clinic defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.”
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But is sharing atrocious video always bad? Not always.
Take the recent videos by the Center for Medical Progress exposing part of Planned Parenthood’s real agenda — along with aborting innocent babies and pretending to offer other reproductive services to the masses — selling baby parts. Without these videos, millions of people around the world would not understand that this organization sees a baby as simply parts to be sold.
These videos were shared to expose an evil that destroys, not empowers, a civilization.
We don’t know the future. Technology may be our savior someday, but it may also be our doom. As we become a society so deadened to images and videos, thanks to violent video games, movies, and the ever-present trend of “defining deviance down,” murder on social media may be the scene from the ahead-of-its-time movie “Brazil.” When a terrorist attack happens in a restaurant, the employees just put up a Japanese folding screen and dine on.
That might soon be us.