Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, and Periscope are a few of the many social media platforms taking a toll on how people receive information. With the recent live stream of the Philando Castile shooting death, it is a platform that should be explored in depth.
“Just this past week, especially with Philando Castile, if it had not been for his girlfriend’s presence of mind, social media, immediate impact and the live streaming on Facebook, people would not have known what was happening there,” said Sandra Davidson, professor of communications law at the University of Missouri.
The new live stream feature on Facebook is the catalyst of how information is documented and distributed. As many may recall, the live video projected images of Castile being shot multiple times by policeman Jeronimo Yanez after complying with the officer’s requests to retrieve his license and registration, and informing the officer he had a gun, which he was licensed to carry. Millions of Americans were able to view the raw, unfiltered version of the killing before law enforcement or the media had the opportunity to edit it with their own narrative.
In addition the violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, led officials to a media blackout, which censored all mass media from sharing updates on the protest in the death of Michael Brown. As a result, social media became the primary resource for people to stay informed about the riots. The hashtag, #mediablackout, became a trending topic the next day as people from all over the world expressed their disapproval of the censorship on Twitter.
“The presence of social media means we have more insight into what goes on in this country, oversight over public officials… and I’m counting police officers… and I think openness is good,” said Davidson. “That’s a very positive effect I think, the fact that we have openness for oversight, and it’s also a big negative with openness.”
She continues, “I’ll give you one example, a dear woman lost her only son when he committed suicide. He jumped from a building in San Francisco, and people were there with their cell phones posting pictures on the internet. Is it good, is it a bad? Well, who is the person doing the posting? What is their intent?”
The vivid graphics of police shooting and killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana also align with the necessary, but disturbing images projected on social media. Chris LeDay, who posted one of the videos of Sterling on social media and was arrested briefly after sharing the images, because he allegedly fit the description of a person that committed a crime. Ramsey Orta, who captured video of the chokehold killing of Eric Garner in New York City, was arrested after sharing the video on social media and was prosecuted for a weapon and drug charge from 2014.
Likewise, terrorist organizations such as ISIL have been able to recruit across a wide platform on social media. In fact, local officials were able to track and arrest Brownsburg, Indiana man Akram Musleh, an alleged terrorist who posted a graphic of his allegiance on his social media account.
On the contrary, social media can connect millions of people all over the world. Davidson says, “I love the fact that social media allows people to keep in contact with each other, especially family. They can reach across the world… It opens up channels of communication, and I’m a great believer that the more we can interact with people from other countries, the better off we’ll be as a world.”
VICTORIA LAY SWANSON @vlayswanson