The saying, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” bears more significance with social media than one might initially think. YouTube has revolutionized video footage giving average citizens the ability to capture events before reporters. Often when news breaks, cameras are already out, poised and ready to upload to YouTube before the media even arrives. Citizens are first to witness and perceive an event, and by the time reporters are present the image or video may already be spreading through cyberspace. Reporters are charged with the job of informing us about goings on in the world. When YouTube videos with footage by private citizens take over this task, privacy rights are compromised, and social change is not accomplished in the grand scheme of things. Millions of people will witness events via YouTube, but will they be more than bystanders?
It is funny how privacy was thought about before YouTube existed. Most of us would have never dreamed of being in a situation where our lives could be filmed and shared with the world without our permission, let alone our awareness. Now, this is the rule and not the exception. Compromising one’s right to privacy is so easy that it should give us pause about what we watch, witness, and internalize as reality.
The fact that violent deaths, rapes, and other crimes have been recorded and broadcast to the world is without a doubt a breach of privacy rights, no matter what the subject’s country of origin. It is hard to imagine for us living in the United States, but in other parts of the world making one’s identity and views known can threaten a person’s life. Some governments make special efforts to find political deviants online.
Many would argue that recording and broadcasting events like the ones mentioned above is important because it communicates tragic events to the rest of the world and incites activism. This is true. However, when someone watches YouTube footage of an attack that violates human rights, he or she becomes a witness. Speaking of the people who were present at the scene, why were they filming and not helping ameliorate the situation? I don’t believe it is out of line to say that a witness has responsibility to act in response to the event. Rather, when one hears a story on the news, they are not a witness but an informed citizen. They have been spared the gory details, and maybe that is for the best. Honestly, how much social change have we seen as a result of YouTube?
A commonly tossed about term these days is “slacktivist;” someone who “likes” a cause on Facebook or signs an online petition. These slacktivisits do not actually take action against a policy or event, but putting their name to it makes them feel that they are legitimate activists. This comes to mind now because people who watch viral videos of traumatic political and criminal events may think, in theory, that they are spreading awareness, but really they are just bystanders. The news, as it is intended, allows us to be informed and aware of the world around us. I am not discounting the value of being informed about the news. I do, however, think that there is a limit to what we need to see in order to be informed. When we take it to the next level and experience these events ourselves, even if just through video, we become more closely linked to the situation than we may have bargained to be. This is why, sometimes, it is sufficient to remember the adage what we don’t know can’t hurt us. A t least then, we aren’t guilty bystanders.