Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg says: “By giving people the power to share, we’re making the world more transparent.”
The world became extremely translucent in the last few days after a number of violent incidents in the United States. In the first incident, Diamond Reynolds live streamed a deadly encounter between a police officer and her boyfriend Philando Castile.
Then, a day later, videos surfaced online of a man in Dallas, Texas, shooting and killing a total of five police officers at a protest rally.
These videos quickly went viral. In both incidents, social media was ahead of the curve of traditional media outlets. The rate at which Diamond Reynolds’ video went viral made it difficult to avoid, whether you wanted to see the footage or not. It had been shared over 5 million times in less than 72 hours.
This has created an unprecedented situation for social media. A man’s dying moments being shared on social media resoundingly shocked and disturbed viewers. But the sharing of the video raises more questions. Why did people want to watch her unnaturally calm commentary of her boyfriend’s last moments? Does the definition fall under social commentary or entertainment? Free speech or invasion of privacy? Or, to paraphrase Zuckerberg, it’s just being part of a more transparent world?
It poses a question as to whether more transparency is really what the world needs. In a society where, in real time, people constantly ingest an unfiltered stream of consciousness from those chosen as virtual friends. Spectatorship has become a team sport. Did Diamond Reynolds do something brave in the moment by sharing what she considered to be something society needed to see, doing her service as a citizen and shining a spotlight on misconduct? Or did she just do what has become instinctive to many people nowadays, and only feel validated if she shares her experiences with all?
For many years, the 1986 news footage of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding as it took off were subject to a voluntary ban by the media, as it was considered in bad taste to show the ‘point of death’. The media didn’t get the chance to have that debate with either of these two latest incidents. And it’s unlikely that debate will happen in the future as applications like Facebook Live or Periscope make anyone with a smart phone a live broadcaster.
The real debate might be is how transparent do we want our world to be?