During the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida on the afternoon of February 14 this year, students took to social media to share with their families, friends and the world the sheer terror that was being inflicted upon them by former student Nikolas Cruz.
“Our school is having a shooting,” one student, Heather, tweeted during the ordeal. “I’m not even kidding I’m about to die.”
This was one example of how social media can be put to good use during times of exceptional crisis, particularly when lives are at stake.
In the week following the shooting, which left 17 students dead and an equal number injured, the students decided to turn social media into a weapon for good by using the various platforms, mostly Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, to both force a conversation about gun control, and to organize large anti-gun demonstrations across the United States.
There have been several other occasions where social media has been used as a force for good, or where it has been shown to be more than just an avenue through which teenagers waste their youth on quotidian matters.
During the recent hurricanes that devastated some Caribbean countries, and in the immediate aftermath of the storms, the affected countries used it effectively to share with the rest of the world the level of devastation they had experienced. Many will recall the Facebook post by Dominica’s prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit while Hurricane Maria was battering his country.
“My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane.”
That was social media at its very best.
However, the very characteristics that make Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp instruments of good during the worst of times, can also bring out the worst in many of us.
Nowhere was this troubling and sadistic behaviour more evident than at #41 Mandela Mall on Swan Street in Bridgetown on Saturday.
As 36-year-old nail technician Onica King of Leadvale, Christ Church lay dying from stab wounds about her body at the hands of a man believed to be her husband, someone picked up a mobile phone, turned on the camera and filmed it. Not to send to the police for evidence, but to share on social media.
How heartless! How crass! How insensitive!
The fact that someone would instinctively begin recording the dying moments of a victim of such a gruesome attack instead of helping, must say a lot about us as a society, as a people.
Have we become so inured to horror and violence that we seek gratification from sharing distress and death on social media?
Have we as a people suspended all reason, common sense and empathy? Are we really this callous, this cruel? Is our beautiful, beautiful Barbados regressing so speedily?
Virtually every time someone dies violently, relatives and the police have had to plead for understanding from those who feel the need to post photographs and/or videos of the victims on social media long before police investigations even begin, and before family members are informed.
Every such plea has fallen on deaf ears, as the practice continues with impunity.
However, Saturday was different. The young woman was dying, her two children, said to be ages six and three, had witnessed the violent crime and were themselves traumatized. Decency would dictate that we do all we can to help in situations like these. But alas, not this reckless, uncaring individual.
We commend the Ministry of Social Care and the Child Care Board for immediately stepping in to provide counselling for the children, and we are encouraged that Barbadians in their numbers took to the very social media to condemn the recording and sharing of the incident.
We strongly endorse the call by the Barbados Association of Professional Social Workers for more empathy and for “Barbadians to put their phones down, and learn how to help, take a course in basic first aid, do something, do not let that something be a video and a video to share among other persons knowing that persons are being harmed”.
The reaction suggests that there is still some good among us, and many of us are outraged by such behaviour.
However, such videos go viral because we share them. Like those who film them we amplify the suffering of the victims. Our simulated indignation is being exposed by our dehumanizing contempt for the victims and their families when we share these videos. In essence, we are as guilty as the person who filmed the dying Ms King in her most vulnerable and weakest state.
And as a country that purports to care, our hearts should sink in shame.