opinion

Last night I watched a shooting on Facebook: Is this our disturbing new reality?

Last night after I put the kids to bed I logged onto my computer. In between catching up on emails, searching for recipes and scheduling in appointments I stumbled across a news story about a police shooting that was streamed live on Facebook. I clicked on this woman’s profile and proceeded to witness, along with millions of other Facebook users across the globe, a first-hand account into the shooting of 32 year old Philando Castile.

There he lay, in the front seat, barely breathing, while his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds narrated the scene. It struck me that she was strangely calm. I realised that what seemed shocking to me, and others who haven’t lived this sort of prejudice and fear, was an all too familiar recurrence. That her reaction wasn’t heartless, merely a practical way of dealing with this new trauma.

It wasn’t until Diamond was handcuffed in the back of the police wagon that she broke down. Her four year old daughter could be heard saying “It’s ok, I’m right here with you.”

That struck me like lightning, and broke me out of my screen watching stupor. What exactly was I watching? I saw a bloodied man sitting in the drivers seat, I heard her muffled cries, a thud, there was darkness, then a clear blue sky, then a crying mother next to her daughter in the back of a police wagon. Was it news or voyeurism? Was this taking couch commentating to a new, macabre level?

In the case of #blacklivesmatter – the personal is the political. And for those witnessing this type of brutality day in and out, this sort of raw footage is one of the few ways to hold those in power, namely, law-enforcement officials – accountable.

But what kind of responsibility do we have in consuming this sort of information?

As a mother, I empathised with Diamond’s grief. My heart cracked when I saw her daughter on screen, comforting her mother, a little girl who just witnessed the death of a loved one right in front of her very eyes.

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I’m not sure I would have reacted the same way, if I saw the story on the nightly news. The intimate nature of the video brought Philando Castile’s case into sharp focus for millions to witness, but I’m not entirely convinced that’s a good thing.

TV broadcasters are subject to editorial standards. A lot of thought goes into what footage to omit, and to keep in. If those standards are breached, the consequences are severe. The internet on the other hand, has no such filter. That can be liberating for those of us searching for information in the rawest form, but at what point does it turn into a spectacle? Wouldn’t it just magnify the bystander-effect tenfold?

I am not arguing for censorship, but I do wonder whether social media magnifies and exploits tragedy. I don’t want my children to be immune from these sorts of issues. I want them to be socially responsibly, and aware of the horrible injustices that are perpetuated against certain members of our community. But I’m not sure I want them participating in a personal tragedy on such a public platform.

There was nothing we could’ve done for Diamond or her daughter at that moment, except to share in their anguish. That is the difference between the virtual and the physical.

When asked by CNN why she started live streaming the event, Diamond Reynolds said she wanted people to know the truth.

“I wanted it to go viral so the people could see,” she said. “I wanted everybody in the world to see what the police do.”

Diamond Reynold’s daughter will never forget what happened to her in that car on July the 6th 2016, and now, neither will we.

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