Last week, the murders of two journalists were strewn across the Internet in a way we couldn’t quite comprehend.
The gunman filmed himself, a camera strapped to his chest-level with the gun in his hand. As he shot both journalists, each of them were shown falling to the ground in their last moments. The gunman proceeded to share the footage on his social media platforms for the world to see.
Terror spread just as quickly as the news of their death as raw footage was shared over and over, eventually summed into three specific stills on the front page of the New York Daily News. The first showing the gun, the second shows the gun being fired and the third as it strikes Alison Parker.
Ethically, there’s something wrong here.
Alison Parker and Adam Ward’s deaths weren’t met with the care and sensitivity it takes to cover tragedies. From the start, their massacre was publicized – breaking to the world before family and loved ones were notified.
As soon as the investigation began, it was clear Bryce Williams (on-screen name for Vester Lee Flanagan II) had vindictive motives for the shooting. After being fired from the station two years prior for undisclosed reasons, tweeting out racially charged messages and sending a 23-page manifesto to the news station moments after the shooting, Williams’ mindset was transparently one of premeditation.
Included in this plan was the built-in advantage of widespread outreach in the form of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
What should have stopped after the initial video post went much further, playing into the sole purpose of the gunman’s design: to make a trophy of his murders and to become the lead story across all media conglomerates.
While the video and comments were immediately suspended from Williams’ Twitter and Facebook, sharing and re-tweeting the footage was far beyond the bounds of damage control. Fellow news anchors flocked to social media, urging the public to stop sharing the video and instead spread a message of humanity: these people were loved and cherished.
Mindless sharing of the images through media creates a spectacle. It creates a drive for likes, re-tweets and papers sold. This is not the intent, but it is the legacy.
Tragedies should definitely be shared. Sharing creates space for healing, for empathizing and for a conversation of how we can move away from these situations with a better understanding of where to go now. This has been evident in coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11 and Sandy Hook. In these heart-wrenching displays of human anguish, we are able to fill the void with messages of saturated love and deep, deep sympathy.
The duty of the media is to report the facts as they happened, not to glorify the happenings. As onlookers, it’s up to us to be gatekeepers with the information we see. People need to be remembered for who they were, not how they went. Let’s remember Alison Parker and Adam Ward, not as “those journalists who were shot on television,” but rather as beautiful, joyful people who loved and shared their lives with everyone around them.