I woke up this morning and, as is my custom, went online to check out all my need-to-know news (which included a visit to Facebook as well as CNN.com). Sadly, Rodney King was found dead today. He was the victim of a severe beating at the hands of cops in Southern California in the early 90s. When the cops were acquitted of his death, people rioted in Los Angeles. I was in elementary school when this happened– around 6th grade, I think– so I remember vividly watching the news about the chaos in LA. Not sure what the circumstances are surrounding his death (the news story reports that he was found dead in his pool) but I hope he rests in peace.
What really ignited public outrage was not just the story itself, of King’s beating, but rather a video that was made of the beating that was sent to the local news. I don’t know this for sure– meaning, I am too lazy to do more research regarding the videomaker’s intentions when he made and sent the film– but I’m going to guess that he was outraged by what had happened and felt some kind of a civic duty to share this news in order to enact some level of justice. I mean, in the 1990s, either you contacted the police or you contacted the news if you wanted attention and action.
But what if this happened today? I ask this because I recently saw a news story about a man, also somewhere in California, who was videotaped beating his stepson during a game of catch in their backyard. The neighbor videotaped the beating and then, because it is 2012, he posted it on YouTube. My understanding is that the video went viral which then prompted the police to get involved. If the Rodney King beating had happened today, would the videographer have posted it on YouTube for all the world to watch as some kind of schadenfreudy, perverse entertainment?
To some degree, I hate the existence of YouTube. Not of the service itself but rather what people think is appropriate to share on the service. I think when sociologists in the future look back on what has added to the social decay of the world, YouTube will rank very high on the list. Whether it’s child abuse, beating helpless homeless people, fights egged on between people– I just think it’s sad that the availability of a service to share video content with the world inevitably ends up with people losing their sense of what is decent and appropriate and valuing likes and video-views over doing the right thing.
YouTube would probably point out that the open nature of the service has helped distribute content that would not previously have been accessible via closed distribution networks. And I would agree with this. And like Twitter and Facebook, YouTube would insist that the service has helped stories get heard, messages get sent, ideas get shared across the world– inspiring new ideas and waging wars against limitations. I would also agree with this. But then you log into YouTube and you watch a video of a cat playing a piano and you’re like…. yeah…. maybe it doesn’t have the sweeping social impact that it would like to think it has.
Back to the topic of people posting on YouTube versus giving information to the police to really enact justice: there is a law that is called something like “Gross indifference for human life” and if you are found guilty of it, it means that instead of acting like a civilized human being when somebody was in the process of dying, you, say, sat around and ate a KitKat and didn’t do anything to compell the saving of that human life. If people video and then post something where individuals are being injured– shouldn’t we start prosecuting those individuals for indifference to the pain of others? If I get attacked on the street and I look over and some guy is videotaping the attack instead of getting help, can’t I sue him for being a total jerk? Would that be undemocratic? Would it violate one’s First Amendment right?
And then back to YouTube itself, my friend in the past had mentioned that YouTube could be doing a lot more to screen for copyright infringement but that it doesn’t (not sure if this is true– this is my friend’s opinion. But having worked at Google, I know that there are processes in place to prevent fraud for other services and that it seems like regulation could be tighter at YouTube if it chose to make it.) I just feel like if YouTube wants to claim that it helps the world be a better place through dissemination of information, that it could communicate what is acceptable and actually serve a leadership role. It would tell posters of bad content “hey, this isn’t cool and now we revoke your right to use this service.” I mean, there was a whole series of “It Gets Better” videos to help promote acceptance and decrease bullying in the LGBT world. And it was great. But then there are a ton of videos where clearly people are being victimized. They seem to cancel each other out– like a cigarette company making a donation to an anti-cancer project.
But aha, I guess I answered my own question. I guess if YouTube tried to police crap on the internet, people would take their terrible videos elsewhere. It’s just business, folks. Remember: guns don’t kill people. People kill people. And then video tape it. And then post it for all the world to see.
So that’s it from me. Nothing like a rant about society on a Sunday morning.