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YouTube, graphic footage & instant gratification

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POSTED April 14, 2011 12:54 a.m.
At one point shortly past midnight Sunday when a brawl broke out in the bar at the Strike Zone a man who appeared to be a bouncer turned to a customer who was videotaping the fight and told him he should post it on YouTube.

The man videotaping replies that he is going to do just that. He then chuckles.

We know this because it is part of the four minutes- plus of footage that the man actually posted on YouTube. A short time later a fairly graphic footage of one woman plunging a knife into the backside of another woman is seen with blood almost instantly squirting out.

Within hours of posting the YouTube video had more than 6,000 hits.

Spectators’ fascination with violent acts predates the Internet Age and Television Era. The Romans built the Coliseum - and packed it with cheering spectators - for violent and often deadly encounters.

Yet there is something a bit unnerving - even disturbing - about how those who record graphic images of violence rush to post it on the Internet without even contemplating self-restraint.

It has fostered an anything-goes mentality that makes the concept of standards seem prehistoric.

It is highly doubtful that folks who post such things give much thought about the victim who now can have her attack accessed forever in cyberspace. Granted this was a bar brawl with a stabbing where the victim will live and the level of graphic images are tame compared to much that is up on the Internet.

The concept of “community standards” is a moving target. The strategy of limiting viewing time to insure impressionable young minds aren’t exposed to gratuitous violence, sex, and vulgarity - three things that seem to be OK by the new standard created by universal access to throwing stuff out for worldwide consumption - is about as quaint as vacuum tube television sets.

Over the years I’ve had my share of discussions with readers who felt a photo - mostly of accidents - was a bit too much and crossed the line. It goes without saying hundreds of photographic images have been spiked over the years because they were deemed too graphic or insensitive. Still there were those that go into print that were deemed insensitive and too graphic by at least some readers.

Editing - or determining what images are appropriate - requires giving it some thought and weighing everything. In the case of YouTube videos, one would hope such a process was undertaken by the individual or organization posting them. Too often it is clear that it isn’t.

But what about the public’s right to know and absolute freedom to say anything you want especially if something happened in a public place? The courts have long held that those aren’t absolutes that there can be reasonable expectation of restraint and actual outright restraint. In today’s world those who embrace everything goes would assume there is nothing wrong about yelling fire in a crowded theater when there isn’t a fire and then videotaping the ensuing mayhem and posting it on YouTube.

While such gate keeping powers shouldn’t be granted by any stretch of the imagination exclusively to the government, corporations, businesses, organizations, religious groups, or even a few select individuals it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all practice some type of restraint.

Had high quality video phones, YouTube, and the Internet been around in September of 1975 I shudder to think what would have been posted. A 15-year-old boy riding his bicycle in Sheridan in Placer County along Highway 65 was struck by a truck and his head severed from his body. I was stringing for the weekly newspaper in Lincoln at the time and just happened to be a minute behind the accident. I had a camera but opted not to use it until emergency crews arrived and covered the body and head. There were also a number of people who arrived before the sheriff, fire department, ambulance crew and coroner. Had it been today how many of them would have been snapping photos and streaming video?

Would they bother to ask themselves how they would feel if they were the boy’s mother and had to know a footage of her son’s grotesque death was in cyberspace for ever for anyone to access from family to complete strangers? If it were them, would they want to be remembered primarily for the graphic image of how they died instead of who they were in life?

Value judgments are an essential part of living in a civilized society. It helps us live together relatively peacefully as opposed to everyone making their own rules and everyone else be damned.

But then again those who find instant gratification by taking embarrassing or violent footage of others and posting it without giving it a second thought to spread it worldwide have pretty much demonstrated their values.

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