Recently a horrific killing has surfaced that has brought the ugly face of internet accessibility to the forefront of debates. On Sunday April 16, a man named Steve Stephens was filming with his camera phone as he murdered Robert Godwin and then posted it on Facebook. Although it was originally reported that he had posted it on Facebook Live, this was incorrect. As horrific as murder is, what is more horrific is that the video of this killing is now plastered across the internet for anyone to see it. Here in lies the issue at hand with journalists today.
Of course it is not difficult to look up videos of this murder today on the internet. It took me about 16 seconds to find the video. Should journalists be posting these horrific videos on their media pages, or should they respect the intimacy of that man’s death? For clarification, it is not Fox News, CNN, or any of the other large media corporations, to the extent that I researched, that had the copies of this video on their feeds. It was the smaller, lesser known websites like Heavy.com that had it front and center. It’s a difficult decision to make and there is a debate about it.
On one hand you have a smaller media outlet that is trying to compete with the big boys. They know they are outstripped and outgunned with regards to resources and outreach. To combat this, they are able to post the nitty gritty, hard to stomach content that the large media outlets would not dare touch. This gives them some competitive edge with regards to reporting and keeps them relevant. From their ethical perspective, they would probably comment on the fact that their job is to report the news, all of it, and if this video shows exactly what news they’re reporting about then they have an obligation to report it as the truth. In doing this, they leave no stone unturned and they become a true mediator of information, rather than a sifter of information.
Yet the other perspective is very pressing as well. For years we have trusted journalists to essentially decide what was important for us to see and what was too graphic. In fact, journalists are supposed to be trained to be sensitive to the needs of the community at large. The reason they are trained professionals is so that they approach each story with respect and caution. However, in this age where anyone can post anything to the internet, all that caution is being thrown to the wind without anyone really stopping to analyze whether or not they should do these things. Now everyone is in a mad dash to post the next big event first so they can get all the news hits on their platform.
I think we need to step back and think about what we’re doing first and consider the consequences. Is the content relevant to the story? Is it in good taste? Does it have a compelling reason to be posted? Does it embarrass the subject or family members? Is it needed to fully tell the story? These are all questions that journalists would ask before posting one of these violent videos on the internet. The importance of each question is to fully consider all the possible ways you could tell a story without the video. When I then honestly ask these questions of myself concerning this video, there is just no way it ends with me thinking it is a good idea to post it.
Ultimately, ethical dilemmas like these are hard to answer. What I think is best might not be what a lot of other people agree with. However, I do think there needs to be more debate over these kinds of videos and more thought before publishing them. Perhaps google needs to better regulate what they allow users to look up and see, but then again that could lead to issues of control. Really, people just need to be aware and think about what they’re doing as opposed to just being the first to do it. It may be the backwards way of looking at it in this society, but it just might be the right way to go about it.