In this age of ubiquitous social media, what are the implications of sharing? Well, even the short answer would have to mention that they can be complicated. In 1993, South African Kevin Carter photographed a starving Sudanese child who collapsed on his way to a feeding centre. In the background of the image a vulture loomed. Advised not to touch famine-stricken residents who could be carrying diseases, Carter instead chased the vulture away and watched as the child recovered and continued its trek.
If you’re familiar with that photo, you know how difficult it is to look at it. But it angered many people, and they criticized Carter for his limited intervention. A year later, after winning the Pulitzer Prize for that same photo, Carter took his own life.
We are telling you this not to leave you dismayed, but to get you thinking seriously about sharing and its outcome. When everyone has the means to immediately share what they capture on phones and other devices, does such heightened misfortune affect us? What are such harrowing incidents doing to our psyche. Are we becoming immune and desensitized to people’s suffering? Are we too busy documenting to actually help? Has our desire for likes, shares, comments and laughs overruled other people’s right to privacy, or genuine empathy?
Moreover, if ignorance really is bliss, how much of our happiness should we sacrifice for the truth? The news tends to dwell on the negative, but in a world where we can filter our news is it moral to turn away, even if it feels like there’s nothing we can do to help? More provocatively, does seeing mean that we must intervene?
In Jamaica recently, a controversial video showing a violent disagreement between neighbours and security employees went viral. Many people were quick to lay blame, and some expressed concern for an injured party who was not given immediate medical attention. The sharing of that video fuelled the debate and is perhaps responsible for the security firm taking punitive action against its employees.
This kind of community response from video sharing seems to be echoing what happens in the wider world. There were decisive global responses to the Sudanese debacle because of Carter’s heartrending photo. In America, authorities put dash cams in patrol cars as a direct result of the outings of police brutality on social media. It’s fair to say dash cams now help to uncover wrongdoings and discourage acts of unprovoked violence, all because of social media sharing.
In the future, we can expect to see what’s shared on social media having greater outcomes in all areas of society. We can even expect that it will impact nearly all areas in our lives.