The impact of Video Journalism in the Arab uprisings: part 2: snuff movies

By Hugo Williams

In the previous post on video journalism from the Arab uprisings, I concentrated on the positive impact that online video has had in providing evidence, both to protesters and the wider world, about abuses that were carried out by different governments during demonstrations.

If information is always KING, then there would be no case to answer for putting every single last video into the public domain. But Wikileaks has demonstrated that things are not always so simple; some information can cause harm (e.g. the documents released by Wikileaks which named people in Afghanistan who had helped the U.S. army, thus posing a credible threat to their lives). But many argue that as long as the benefit of releasing the information outweighs the harm it does, then there’s no problem.

One thing that has struck me as I’ve followed the Arab revolution online, is the visceral nature of much so much of the content that goes up. Watching official news channels like the BBC and Sky feels like a PG-rated experience compared to what you are exposed to online. There is no watershed on the internet, and that is reflected in much of the videos that I have watched since the uprisings began.

The clip I showed in the first part of this blog report was of a police van deliberately driving through a crowd of protesters in Cairo, running over several of them as it went. At first an online video, it was quickly picked up by news organisations and played in their main reports of the day’s events. At the time I felt like the footage was very shocking, and perhaps inappropriate even. But it was nothing compared to the videos I then started watching.

I have deliberately not embedded these links so that anyone reading this blog will not be involuntarily exposed to the shocking footage: But if you do click through, ask yourself why? Is it because you feel it’s important to understand the opression and violence that people in the Arab world have had to face in their bid for a free society? Or is it because you’re the same as every human being, with that innate fascination with death, that desire to rubberneck when you go past the scene of a serious car accident, just to see what it’s like? Or are you like me, so desensitised to the whole thing, that you don’t really think twice about clicking through? It’s just more information, right?

Two dead pro-Gadaffi mercenaries, according to rebels in Benghazi,  Libya lying side by side on the ground    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV0ebDPQrYk

An unarmed protester in Bahrain, shouting “God is great” in Arabic. He is then shot by a sniper.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZle1_Xjn_k&skipcontrinter=1

A young protestor in Latikia, Syria, face and neck covered in blood. Unclear if he’s alive or dead.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3RiFkdSZ5A

 

One final thought: if you were a 12 year-old child and googled Latikia, the first video result that comes up on the google search page, without any filters, is the final one on my list.

I realise the importance of posting videos to show the violence that people in the Middle East, but surely Google and YouTube should think up some method by which they can filter out videos and images of dead people from basic searches. This kind of content should only become accessible if you are really looking for it, not easily embeddable on a public forum like twitter.

If and when all this does come to an end, Google and YouTube may want to do a bit of spring cleaning. Otherwise the internet is in danger of becoming one massive snuff video vault.

 

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