No place online for death videos
A 59-second video shared on an Instagram account captured the aftermath of a terrible accident in Queens that killed 14-year-old Fortune Williams two weeks ago after a speeding 16-year-old driver crashed into a parked UPS truck and a tractor trailer. The impact split the car in half, leaving Fortune’s body on the pavement.
The footage shows other cars passing as her body lies motionless beside the wrecked vehicle. In the background, a distraught woman whimpers repeatedly, expressing her helplessness while the person recording the video provides a graphic description of the disfigured body.
Concerned commenters on the “ny_scoop” Instagram post, which has now gained over 10,000 likes and nearly 1,700 comments, asked for the video to be removed out of respect for the girl’s grieving family.
This Instagram page, which boasts over 110,000 followers, describes itself as a platform showcasing “New York City in action.” Unfortunately, it features numerous graphic imagery of gruesome local incidents. Among them is a video showing the body of an unidentified 15-year-old boy on top of a train; he’s believed to have been “subway surfing” at the Staten Island Railway’s Eltingville station when he was fatally struck in the head. The video shows a significant amount of blood flowing down the side of the train.
While the page’s most explicit videos carry a “sensitive content” warning, that hardly seems enough when voyeurism is the intended purpose of posting them.
Images of death can have a social purpose. There is currently a debate about posting photos of the mangled bodies of children killed with weapons of war to better inform public debate about guns and mass murders.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that social media companies are not liable for content posted on their platforms, providing them with protection from a wide range of content moderation lawsuits. Instagram’s community guidelines claim a commitment to being a safe space for inspiration and expression. The platform urges users to respect others and enforces a strict policy against nudity. Surprisingly, Instagram allows videos showing deceased individuals, as long as they are not naked. Pages like “ny_scoop” exploit human tragedies to accumulate clicks, and contribute very little to the conversation.
But should we consume everything we have access to? These visuals do nothing to prevent future occurrences. They serve as clickbait, another moment to go viral, while challenging our humanity and desensitizing us to the world around us.
There is little policymakers can do to prevent individuals from recording or posting such content online. However, social media companies bear a responsibility to the victims and their families. And we have a responsibility to exercise compassion and empathy. Rather than instinctively reaching for our phones to record, we should reflect on how we would want our final moments on this earth to be remembered.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.