Beheadings and the new media landscape

War is brutal. A journalist has been beheaded, the video shared in the ultimate low cost act of terror. The murder of one man, filmed, and shared worldwide, the video a clear strategic and calculated act of terror. All wars require an opening act to shock and awe, to prevent any opposition in those first vulnerable days of taking power. The murder, only a small part of how this particular act of shock and awe becomes effective. Every share, every view, amplifies the message. In all respects amplification of this video is an act of terror. Watching a video of a child being abused, even after the fact, is abuse of that child. Watching and sharing this video is an act of terrorism.

The human psyche is not supposed to cope with viewing material of other human beings being hurt, being abused, being raped. When you watch material like this as a professional, you reflect methodically and carefully before you watch, while you watch and most importantly after you watch. You watch your responses to it, you take care to note what they are, and you are honest with yourself about it. In order to watch material, especially prolonged material, you have to do this. When you do this, you realise your reactions are interesting.
In order to watch the material, you have to dehumanise the subject. Even if you are watching and know the subject. You have to do this because otehrwise, you could not watch. The images you see, stay with you. They don’t improve your perception of the world, they don’t make it more accurate. They mean you can never again look at a world where you didn’t know that happens. If you are not careful they desensitise you and if you have to repeatedly watch material of people being harmed, you have to take a great deal of care not to start treating that level of harm as normal.

I said it wasn’t censorship that snuff videos are subject to laws, but it is. And this is a snuff video. It may be censorship, but images like this have an effect one everyone who views them, and knowing what that effect is,I don’t want a culture where sharing this kind of material is the norm.

Initially my fury was at the lack of responsibility people have when sharing this material. Initially my fury was at social media, those drunk on perceived power gained as a challenge to mainstream media. People too dumb to know that no sane person seeks out these images, and too dumb to know that watching it is harmful in itself. People who do not even consider the ethical implications of what they do and toss aside what journalists are taught like it is worthless. Then I saw the front pages of the political press today. Under all the screaming about terrorism, our media want us to search for this video. They want this act of terror amplified.

The toddlers of social media have an example to look to, when committing gross acts of abuse, an existing media framework who tell them this is ok. P


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