Posted on: February 5, 2023 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by Emily Stephens, Graphics Editor

By now, you may have seen the body cam footage of the traffic stop that led to the brutal assault–and eventual murder–of Tyre Nichols. As soon as it was released by the Memphis police department on Jan. 27, the shares on social media were bound to happen. 

What shouldn’t be bound to happen is us rushing to share a man’s death, just to then stay still on the discussion of police brutality. 

Although videos of tragedies can spread awareness of a specific example of a larger societal issue, sharing them can be harmful not just by exposing us to trauma, but by turning our focus more towards the graphic media than the issues themselves. Our instinct to share and send can suppress what really should become viral: the conversations around these problems and how to solve them.

In this social media age, video evidence of tragedies ends up on timelines before many viewers even know the context surrounding it.  

Juan Carbajal

Opinion Editor

I remember how easy it was for a 14-year-old me to click on a viral YouTube video of a man in an orange jumpsuit on his knees in the middle of some desert background. Standing behind him was this guy in all black up to his eyes, who started talking in a foreign language about hating America. Then I saw the knife this guy was holding. The video ended with the man in the orange jumpsuit being decapitated. That video was deleted, but other platforms got ahold of it and then it spread like wildfire. 

It wasn’t until much later that I found out the man in the jumpsuit was James Foley, an American journalist who was decapitated by a member of ISIS.

A few years later, I was scrolling on Instagram and a video popped up on my feed that grabbed my attention. I saw police surrounding this black guy they had pinned to the ground in what looked like a parking lot, and they were yelling at him to stay down. My curiosity made me stop scrolling; I didn’t expect something like this to just pop on my timeline. While I was still trying to read the caption to find out his name–Alton Sterling–and the reason the police ended up pinning him down, the yelling in the video turned into gunshots. Then my curiosity made me stop reading, and I saw him die. 

I won’t forget the type of hurt I felt when I first heard of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. A group of teens who went to school on the same day I did with my peers, all around the same age as us–along with teachers and staff members like the ones I knew–didn’t come back home because they fell victim to another mass shooting. 

I hated hearing about it, hated hearing about the discussion of guns again, but I knew I had to, and I knew it was going to be on social media. Sure enough, a few days later, I saw a video of one of the victims recording themselves in their classroom as gunshots went off nearby. I didn’t know that video existed, and I still don’t even know who the people in it were or who recorded it. 

A few years later, I saw that George Floyd video, because we all did, but I still don’t know why I watched it. I say that because I don’t know how watching it helped. 

Social media capitalizes on a culture that is reactionary, and it can lead to us being less proactive on issues that matter.”

Curiosity is part of being human, and there’s also caring about something and feeling the need to be exposed to it because you care. Or we might feel we need to be informed on the details of a tragic event in order to form our own opinions and add to the conversation. 

However, we don’t need to see trauma for ourselves in order to become informed. We don’t need to watch tragedy unfold just to satisfy our curiosity. And we can spread a message without spreading someone else’s tragedy in video form.

I’m not condemning anyone for wanting to know, wanting to care, and wanting to do something. Clicks, views, and shares can help, but it’s important to keep in mind that media like this can both grab, and keep our attention. These videos can take our focus away from what each individual case of tragedy means for the bigger societal issues it represents. 

Social media capitalizes on a culture that is reactionary, and it can lead to us being less proactive on issues that matter. Our generation has grown up seeing these kinds of videos, and it’s easy to become desensitized, to put up defenses so we don’t become overwhelmed by the horror.

But it’s time to stop and think about what we’re seeing, and look for answers to important questions. Why did this happen? What leads to things like this happening? How can I, and we, take part in trying to stop these things from happening again?