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On the viral bus shooting video: Is it ethical to share graphic content online?

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published Nov 16, 2023 7:23 pm

Warning: graphic content

In the vast landscape of social media, you'll inevitably come across content that could leave you disturbed, upset, and even traumatized. A recent incident involving a Victory Liner bus had that effect on several social media users.

In footage captured by a dashcam video, two passengers on a bus were shot dead while traveling in Carranglan in Nueva Ecija on Nov. 15. The crime was committed by two men from the back of the bus, who walked near the door before bringing out a gun and shooting a man and a woman sleeping in the front passenger seats.

The victims, identified as 60-year-old Gloria Mendoza Quillano and 55-year-old Arman Bautista, died instantly after a bullet pierced through their head and neck multiple times.

The graphic video has since been all over Facebook and X, reaching the eyes of various social media users who were willing and unwilling to watch it. For obvious reasons, some commuters who have seen it shared that the footage caused them to fear for their own safety when using public transport. Others also stressed the importance of putting a trigger warning before reposting the video as it triggered their anxiety.

"How am I supposed to sleep now after watching that Victory Liner video?" a social media user wrote. "That video will haunt me. Very disturbing and traumatizing as a commuter."

Another one said it's been bothering him since he saw the video online. "This calls for a more stringent censorship and regulations on photos and videos," he added.

"Everyone, be careful clicking on the 'Victory Liner' that is currently trending on X. The video is very disturbing as it shows the shooting of two people," an X user said. "Also, if you share the video, put proper tags, please. Watch at your own risk."

Is it ethical to share violent content on social media?

Despite how graphic a post may be, it may still be allowed on platforms such as Facebook and X with certain limits.

For Facebook, the platform limits the visibility of the post by plastering a warning sign to let people know that the content may be inappropriate or hard to watch.

X, meanwhile, controls graphic content by prohibiting users from posting it within areas that are highly visible on the platform, including in live video, profile, header, list banner images, or community cover photos. However, the social media site explained there are some types of sensitive media content that they don’t allow at all, because they have the "potential to normalize violence and cause distress to those who view them."

Jeremaiah Opiniano, who teaches research methods and journalism courses at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), told PhilSTAR L!fe that while publishing graphic photos and videos is now accepted in the age of social media, having trigger warnings is necessary for such content.

"This approach has been done in traditional broadcast news, which enjoys the benefit of having gatekeepers. But since it is social media, there is loose control over materials being shared," Opiniano said.

People now have the tendency to press share without thinking of the consequences, leading others to be exposed to gruesome content.

According to another UST journalism professor, who chose not to be named, it is a principle to refrain from sharing such videos without proper consent.

"Blurring the faces of those on video whose consent was not obtained should've been done," he said. "We really can't stop people from sharing. That would be difficult."

He continued, "People have the choice to watch or ignore it. They have the power to share it, but they also have the power to stop sharing it. Think before you share. What if you were the subject of the video? Would you want it shared with thousands of people without your consent? How would you feel? Those are good guide questions."

How to manage anxiety and trauma after watching graphic content

Jhon Cadiz Carandang, a clinical psychologist, explained to L!fe that sensitive content can truly be triggering and if shared irresponsibly, can create anxiety and fear among viewers.

"It will also develop trauma or emotional distress. Hindi kasi pixelated ['yung video], so identifed and direct. Kaya nga everytime you watch action movies, may censorship na tinatawag. I think it should be addressed na hindi dapat raw video 'yung i-upload," Carandang said.

Any form of violence can trigger people emotionally and psychologically, and clinical psychologist Rainier Ladic told L!fe that self-help techniques can help one manage anxiety after watching videos like such.

"They can employ self-help techniques such as relaxation and grounding techniques, which could help alleviate intense anxiety. The person can mentally prepare himself or herself by anticipating what needs to be done to be safe so that one can attune themselves back to their day-to-day routine," Ladic said.

'Nothing is 100% safe' on social media

As Ladic puts it, "In the online world, nothing is 100% safe."

At the end of the day, the kind of content that is being spread on the Internet lies entirely in the hands of social media users, which is why it's crucial for them to be mindful of what they choose to post and share for others to see.

"We must know our limits if we can tolerate or expose ourselves to violent content, and if we think something is too much, an easy way out is to swipe up immediately or they can choose to block or report the content for the sake of others who may get disturbed," Ladic urged.

"If there are some videos that we have captured and we know they contain graphic images and violence, think twice in posting this. Let’s not just be driven by our emotions as much as we want to inform others to be aware about something but we might unintentionally harm others by posting this," he added.

Opiniano said users can also make a request to the social media platform or the people who have shared the sensitive video to have it taken down.

"Of course, this is not a guarantee because such video can be posted on either another social media platform or on a website that may not be much visited by people. Nevertheless, the action here is about being vigilant of notifying people of such concerning content, making people literate on what to do with such content," he said.