Sometime last year, I came across an article on the web reporting a woman who received a 15-year jail term for video-recording her boss while he committed a crime. What was the crime? The lady in question (through her mobile phone) recorded a video of her boss setting a homeless man on fire! The man died, and local authorities got wind of the crime, and of course the video evidence in pristine quality.
Similarly, a while ago, a man in Ohio was arrested after he allegedly videotaped the aftermath of a deadly car crash instead of reaching out to help the victims. The middle-aged man didn’t stop at this; he actually uploaded the video on Facebook and also made overtures to sell it to interested TV outfits.
Before now, I always wondered what our responsibilities were as social beings: literally, social beings with smart devices and even smarter access to the digital web. I wondered around these issues because, occasionally, I encounter real-life scenarios where people were more interested in capturing the moment and “televising the revolution” than they were lending a helping hand to the maimed; the injured; the attacked; the victim. And, each time we seem to miss the opportunity to save the “object” rather than capture the moment of helplessness.
Whatever makes us more interested in the former rather than the latter happens to be the same reason why we are plugged into the digital; we love to capture moments, store these moments, view these moments, and freely share these moments. That is a very logical use of the social web and digital tools, of course.
In Nigeria, a couple of years back in the modern city of Port Harcout, four students were reportedly caught trying to rob their friends, and were eventually lynched in broad day light. The lynching was stomach-churning, but even worse were the number of different video footages accessible on the internet showing the tragedy.
Concerted efforts weren’t made to stop the lynching of these young lads who, eventually, were actually found innocent of the said crime. But, concerted efforts were made by different “mobile phone users” to capture the moment from the beginning of the unforgivable street justice until the death of all four of them, popularly referred to on the social web as ALUU4.
In this case, of course we could argue that when it comes to lynching and “mob justice”, one’s instinct is always to stay safe and away from “the line of fire”. Reports have revealed instances where witnesses who have tried stopping lynching were angrily attacked as accomplices. We do understand the possibility of this happening.
But, the point remains that these photographic and video files we take when such incidences happen are often “self-serving” and not meant to actually capture the identities of the perpetrators for prosecution or as helpful evidence towards averting future occurrences. For example, the Judge who sentenced a woman to a 15-year jail term did so knowing that the woman didn’t hide in a corner to record the lynching of the homeless man for prompt report to the authorities. So, technically she participated in the crime didn’t she? She is then simply an accomplice with her eye on the lens wasnt she?.
Are legal actions against such decisions concerning our priorities on whether to help or record justified? These are questions which need to be seriously probed while taking into consideration different contexts. If you ask me as a social savvy Nigerian youth, I would say “drop the camera and lend a helping hand, please!” Because, after all helping a fellow human being in distress MUST take precedence over and above all else.