YouTube as War Correspondent - When is Reality Counterproductive
Social media and social uprisings have been linked since photography was invented. The first war to be photographed was the Mexican American War of 1846-1848. Posed soldiers and landscapes were the subjects delimited by the technology of the time.
To expand on this "still" reality, Civil War photographers Haley Sims, Alexander Gardner and Matthew Brady, recreated battle scenes and even moved dead bodies to show the atrocities of war to the public. Many iconic photos in newspapers and newsreels exist to remind us of World War I and II, Vietnam, Cambodia, et al. War movies have added to the collection of these themes, albeit through fictional recreations.
What is different today is the any-time reality and vast over exposure of unspeakable atrocities by social media, specifically YouTube. Since the infamous 2002 execution of American journalist Daniel Pearl, we have been inundated with atrocities posted on this site. Although Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been notorious in their use of exploitation of videos, executions are filmed and distributed by the Chinese, North Koreans and many others.
Time Magazine, May 27, 2013, calls the conflict in Syria the "YouTube War". They question whether the videos from Syria are reporting events or inciting further violence. The focus of the article is Khalid al-Hamad, a commander of the independent Omar al-Farooq Brigade who was filmed chewing on an internal organ pulled from his victim. Time reports the video has been viewed 885,000 since it was posted March 5, 2013. For purposes of this article, I clicked on the video, saw the desecration of the body, and the act of cannibalism.
Evidently, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and "the rules of policing social media are still being invented." Time magazine suggests there is a fine line between violent videos and videos with graphic content that have journalistic intent.
YouTube's reach makes us couch voyeurs to global conflicts, but let's not confuse this site with still censored TV programs. Expect to see more of the same violence online. Watch it enough and the reality that is being depicted becomes unreal. Over exposure will eventually reduce these graphic videos to the familiar and then they will no longer have the ability to attract our attention.
That result would be both dangerous and sad. More than 80,000 people have been killed in the Syrian Civil War.