Common decency lacking in new digital age

Samoa has been overwhelmed by violent incidents of the most disturbing kind. 

By reporting on them, we have come in for our share of criticism - purportedly for lowering the status of the nation. Now that’s a debatable matter.

But it is the role of new and social media in the aftermath of each of these episodes that has proven to be unambiguously harmful.

The tendency for social media users to film and circulate these disturbing incidents online has without a doubt eroded the strength of our common decency - and in so doing bringing us closer to more violence.

The events of last Saturday when a man brutally murdered his former partner in public before torching the scene of the crime are so shockingly awful that even to contemplate them is to cross the frontier of the humanly imaginable.

In the Samoa of old, people would immediately jump in to help. They would firstly try to revive the woman, put out the fire and do anything to improve what was obviously a very sad situation.

But that’s not what happened. From social media accounts, members of the public instead of rendering assistance turned towards documenting the events for their online followers.

In doing so, they captured a young victim’s lifeless body - her dignity protected only by a bloodied sheet - being taken from her place of death to the morgue. It was hard to watch.

It was later reported that the victim’s family in Savai’i first learned of her death through these images and video. Imagine that?

 ‘Social’ media has and can become a horror show for the worst aspects of our humanity. Its advent has posed a challenge we all need to think very carefully about today.

While the new age generation will be first tempted to film and post, there are questions we must ask ourselves. Is that the right thing to do? Is that the most humane thing to do? How would you feel if that was your sister being filmed and shown to the world in that manner?

In the world of social media, where kudos and rewards are offered for being the first to publish, careful consideration goes out the window. We are all equipped with powerful recording equipment and we have all been endowed with the capacity to become reporters. And in the age of Twitter and Facebook becoming publishing platforms we are all editors too.

But in the face of pressure to be first and the allure of online “clout” too many people behave without common decency.

The case on Saturday of a new media outlet streaming live one of its soi-disant reporters apparently offering a Police Officer a bribe to get closer to an active investigation is a sorry case study of how such imperatives cloud judgment.

And the platforms that facilitate this citizen “journalism” have also shown themselves incapable of policing ethics in a speed that keeps pace with the flow of content.

The Government has drafted a bill that would make sharing and dispersing offensive images online a criminal offence. That is a measure we support. But we are also cynical of the ability of a nation of Samoa’s size to effect change within the social media giants who have shown themselves resistant to pressures brought to bear such as those by United States’ Congress public hearings into their editorial standards.

The sharing of this disturbing material is inextricably linked to the current epidemic of domestic violence. The now Acting Chief Justice, Vui Clarence Nelson, said when sentencing a man to nine years’ or a horrific attack on his estranged wife that every incident of domestic violence reverberated around society.

 “The damage that domestic violence inflicts on families and victims is akin to a stone being cast into the still waters of a lake,” he said.  “It has a ripple effect not only upon those immediately affected but on all those surrounding them. And its spread is capable of reaching the remote corner of every family and community.”

The same can be said about the behaviour we saw on Saturday with the videos shared of this tragedy. Each stretches the bonds of our shared humanity and our respect for the sanctity of life. Every such step conditions us just a little more toward violence.

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