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As news surfaces today about a possible terror attack in the Dutch city of Utrecht, this past Friday brought news of an Australian national suspected of having opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand killing 49. Soon after that deadly mass shooting was reported around the world, a fierce debate, mostly backlash, on social media erupted about some news organizations’ decision to share the suspected shooter’s 74-page manifesto and edited version of the video of the shooting, allowing readers to download the entire document and view the edited video on their websites just hours after the massacre on Friday. New Zealand police urged the public not to share the content. Not everyone heeded the request.
According to The Atlantic, social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube said they were removing footage of the attack, which was broadcast live on Facebook. www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/03/british-media-christchurch-mosque-new-zealand/585076/ Facebook alone removed 1.5 million video clips of the shooting in one day. www.thedailybeast.com/facebook-removes-15-million-video-clips-of-new-zealand-mosque-shooting-in-one-day
“When YouTube took down a video of the New Zealand massacre, another would appear, as quickly as one per second. Inside the tech giant as it raced to contain ‘a tragedy almost designed for the purpose of going viral,’” tweeted journalist Drew Harwell.
But as social media sites struggled to keep the video offline, British news organizations like The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror published edited versions of the video while The Sun posted a GIF from the video and the Mail offered the suspect’s full manifesto. These news organizations eventually took the material down from their websites, stating that it either violated the newspaper’s policies or it was done in error https://twitter.com/Mirror_Editor/status/1106534340333314048.
But similar decisions or “mistakes” have occurred in the past and raise questions for global readers and news publishers alike: how much information does the public have the right to know and how should news organizations meet that need and cover acts of violence? What's the balance?
CNN recently decided that it wouldn’t share the name of suspected mass shooters while some other news organizations have decided to blank out the identity of a suspected shooter in photographs.
The Atlantic raised some good questions in their article (below) about how to report on violence and other violent acts: when is it appropriate to label an event an act of terrorism or someone a terrorist? How should journalists frame their stories? When should the media publish the names of perpetrators involved in attacks? Should they publish their names at all? Should media outlets share details of an attack, including related images and propaganda, especially when social media is being used for this purpose (www.theverge.com/2019/3/15/18266859/new-zealand-shooting-video-social-media-manipulation)? What are the implications of this? New Zealand police requested restraint from sharing that information but should the request extend across the internet?
While the conversation is necessary and involves everyone who disseminates or consumes news, the answers are not always cut and dry (or are they?).
For an in-depth read on this topic, visit: www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/03/british-media-christchurch-mosque-new-zealand/585076/
A book recommending how to cover violence: https://cup.columbia.edu/book/covering-violence/9780231133937
Here are five ways journalists can cover mass shootings: www.cjr.org/criticism/mass-shootings-media-coverage.php
Photo credit: CNN