Video as Judge, Jury, and Executioner

With the entire world watching, scenes of triumph, devastation, violence, and heartbreak have recently unfolded online. So much so, that social media apps have adapted their technology to stay in line with the rapid influx of civilian shot video being uploaded to the web, documenting the world’s latest headlines. In today’s internet-driven society, video has now become proprietor for the world’s social commentary. Audiences will tune into YouTube channels for current events before turning on the television or picking up a paper. Online video allows the public to give immediate opinion on world events and have dialogue with others, internationally, all at the touch of a button. These opinions have begun to shape the way that society as a whole functions. The court of public opinion now has major influence in politics, social change, psychology, and marketing, and video has given audiences the tools to become judge, jury, and at times, executioner.

Take for instance Donald Trump’s recent calamities involving video of him making sexually inappropriate comments regarding women. One particular video went viral immediately and has fueled an already controversial campaign’s implosion. The public took to the internet to respond to his comments, leading droves of Trump’s GOP colleagues to revoke their support for him. As social media posts were shared and commented on regarding his remarks, political opinion was swayed primarily against the Republican candidate. With this case, the public was shown evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing, deliberated as a group, and passed forth a sentence of potential death to his political career. The immediacy with which information traveled and that audiences voiced their criticisms prompted a swift form of “internet justice” by which Donald Trump was held accountable in the public eye, and both he and his supporters were forced to answer for his actions.

Several similar cases arose over the past couple of years, but more dynamically over the past several months involving police shootings caught on civilian video. Most notably is the Philando Castile shooting live streamed on Facebook. An unarmed, compliant African-American man was fatally shot while in the car with his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter in the back seat. Facebook’s adaptation of the live streaming feature due to the surge of video posts had just recently been released when the shooting occurred. After a series of controversial shootings of African-American men, Mr. Castile’s girlfriend began live streaming the police stop to her Facebook account. As the video recorded, the audience was able to react in real-time to the event as it unfolded. In the aftermath of the tragic event, comments continued to fly across the internet, with protests erupting and further shootings occurring in the months following. Using the video as a “smoking gun,” the public lambasted the officer for poor training and an itchy trigger finger and demanded charges be filed. However, in this case, the “jury” was unable to sway the “court” enough and the officer was placed on administrative leave then returned to work on desk duty.

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