Philando Castile, Facebook Live, and a New Chapter For Citizen Journalism

We’ve seen cellphone videos of the police killings of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and too many others. Earlier this week, the fatal police shooting of Louisiana man Alton Sterling was captured from two angles. Such imagery not only informs people about specific events, but also gives news organizations fodder to more aggressively challenge systemic issues of police tactics and law enforcement internal accountability measures.

But just one day after Sterling’s chilling death, a new variety emerged in the increasingly familiar genre. Past videos allowed viewers to see uncut incidents of alleged brutality after the fact. Diamond Reynolds’s Facebook Live video Wednesday night, captured just seconds after her boyfriend Philando Castile was mortally wounded by a cop during a traffic stop, did so in real-time. Even more striking was her measured narration of the bloody scene: Reynolds became a broadcaster.

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One thought on “Philando Castile, Facebook Live, and a New Chapter For Citizen Journalism

  • July 8, 2016 at 10:06 am

    Uberti’s report focuses on important new developments in news technology, but by day’s end on the day he filed the July 7 story, dramatic new developments had advanced the story about how new technology affects the impact of news coverage.

    Before midnight, we were watching on network news cell phone images of a lone gunman assassinating a police officer, two blocks from historic Dealey Plaza. As we well know, citizens’ video and photographs from 53 years ago at that location became enshrined in national debate about what happened and how it happened.

    While we cannot know for certain that the gunman who we saw assassinate a police officer under the portal of El Centro College Bookstore was enraged by viewing the two videos, such direct impact of the footage seems likely.

    It is just as likely that news organizations cannot stop the spread of such live coverage. The question for editors and publishers now is how to mitigate the spread of violence among individuals or groups that react to such graphic depictions of violence.

    For decades, editors and publishers have attempted to mitigate the impact of violent scenes by simply not publishing graphic imagery. There is no denying that, after the nations’ two longest wars, very little imagery of actual suffering and dying in those wars has been depicted in domestic media.

    Meanwhile, the troops who fought those wars have returned home, many of them finding work in law enforcement agencies where the realities of war-zone combat have systematically informed the way police officers respond to threats. It’s not so much the widely reported military-style materiel with which police are now equipped as the tactical lessons of war-zone gunfights might have informed the sudden and decisive manner in which police respond to perceived danger.

    Citizens stateside, unfamiliar with the gravity of war-zone conflict, are confronted by police officers trained in war-zone trigger skills. Having not been exposed to the nature of conflicts at roadblocks and door-to-door searches in Iraq or Afghanistan, citizens are more likely to respond to confrontational police orders with skills learned in popular culture. In some popular cultural millieu, especially among low-income urban communities, a vaguely threatening pose or a marginally non-compliant approach to compliance is a way of maintaining individuality in the face of a system perceived as exclusive and oppressive.

    By attempting to mitigate impact of exposure to graphic war-zone imagery, the media may have helped create a context where some segments of the public fail to appreciate the hair-trigger reality of confrontations between individuals and the state in our time. By failing to acculturate society to the reality of violence in our time, sudden exposure to violent imagery – as we saw in Dallas – could result in dramatic and tragic consequences.


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