In the era of the ‘viral’ video the boundaries of sensitivity are being redrawn.

 

On December 4th last year Michael Christian and Mel Greig dialled the number of London’s King Edward VII hospital. What unfolded over the following days and weeks nobody could have predicted. The death of Jacintha Saldanah was a tragedy. The public inquest and scrutiny that followed was a travesty.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Being able to analyze circumstances after they have taken place. The public and the media use hindsight as a means of identifying flaws in an original plan. In this situation hindsight should have been used to confirm that what the DJ’s did was above board. We live in a society of accountability. Having somebody to blame allows us to fully digest the incidents that have taken place.

In Ireland numerous radio stations use prank phone calls as a means of entertaining listeners. These are well received and have been constants in radio shows for years now. How is this situation any different from the Australian example? A prank call is a prank call – viral for one may be millions around the world, for others it may be those in the local vicinity.

Less then a month after the Saldanah tragedy we saw the impact of the ‘viral era’ once again. A girl on a night out, slightly too much to drink and a stupid drunken rant – all on video. This has happened to everybody, not the nationwide notoriety, but the drunken rant part.

In the days after the video, comments warned of the potential effects this exposure may have on the girl in question. Awareness of possible consequences had increased, potentially because of the Saldanah case, and precautions were necessary. The public outcry was directed towards those who had filmed and uploaded the video. This was further example that the power roles are shifting – the vulnerable in these situations are the victims – regardless of whether they are in the wrong.

But where are the boundaries? Aengus MacGrianna’s mishap last week was uploaded to YouTube, tweeted by thousands, aired on Jimmy Kimmell. What makes this any different? Nobody stressed caution in this situation. It was all just a bit of a joke. If he is a public figure does that mean he is immune to embarrassment and sensitivity? Just like the nurse and the KPMG girl, MacGríonna made a mistake which was seized upon and documented to a large audience. Why can we focus on his misfortune, while tip-toeing around that of others?

Foresight is a method of prediction and when it fails to account for certain factors the results can be tragic. There is a risk that over emphasis on sensitivity could result in dehumanization. We now see the non-reporting of light hearted events because of potential consequences. We may be entering the era without embarrassing stories and funny videos because of the threat of reprecussions. That is not a great outlook– but it seems we don’t have a choice.