20 Aug 2014

Why we shouldn’t share – or view – the video of James Foley’s murder

Do I really have to explain this? Last night, late, on hearing the dreadful news about James Foley, I tweeted what I thought was a rather obvious, but pertinent reminder why we should not watch a video of a murder.

Apparently some people disagreed.

So here, briefly, is what I mean.

I’m a great believer in showing the reality of war and of humanitarian crises, because people need to understand the impact of things that they can change. I also believe we should show dead bodies on the news in some but not all circumstances, as well as explosions or bombings.

But there is something different and perhaps sacred about the moment of death that makes these sorts of videos, for me, completely different.

Would I ever watch a video of somebody being killed in this country? On the whole, no.

Some point to the video of the Woolwich murder of Lee Rigby. Others will also point to the video-game-like presentations of coalition forces when they show us their precision airstrikes.

My personal view is that the same standard applies.

The whole reason Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda film murders and distribute them online is to spread fear.

I saw that fear on the face of refugees in Iraq last week. The propaganda value of these videos and the stories accompanying them, is so strong that IS does not have to fight its way in to huge swathes of Iraq – people have simply fled at the first sound of them on the city limits.

So spreading a video, or even watching it yourself and telling people about it, is simply doing exactly what IS and al-Qaeda want. It is, in effect, helping them.

You do not need to watch that video to know that it is gruesome, painful and utterly wrong.

You do not need to watch it to form a judgement about the kind of person who would do such a thing. It reveals nothing. So that’s why I didn’t watch it, and I suggest you don’t either.

And that’s without even beginning to consider the gross intrusion into the grief of James Foley’s family.

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