Newspapers which published graphic images of the moments when two US television journalists were gunned down live on air have been slammed as insensitive and exploitative by outraged readers.
On its front page, The New York Daily News published three pictures of Alison Parker, 24, of Virginia TV station WDBJ-7, being shot by a former colleague who had been sacked for erratic behaviour. The gunman then turned the weapon on cameraman Adam Ward. Both were killed.
But some readers have criticised the decision to publish the pictures, with many saying they had deliberately tried to avoid the disturbing photos. One image shows the muzzle flash from the gun and a look of shock on Ms Parker’s face as she realises what is happening.
I hate that I just saw NY Daily News cover. What a repulsive decision. I went the whole day managing to avoid any images of it… Then that.
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) August 27, 2015
Everybody should boycott buying the @NYDailyNews paper!! Who in their right mind would think it’s OK to print that photo?? Shame on them!!
— Matthew Gregoire (@BreakngNewsPhtg) August 27, 2015
But The New York Daily News was not alone in showing the pictures. UK tabloid The Sun also showed the moment the gun was fired, while The Times and The Daily Mirror published still images taken from the gunman’s video.
Social media and gun violence converge
The violence was documented with shocking vividness by the gunman himself, who live-streamed the attack from his mobile phone.
The vision almost looked like a first-person shooter video game: a handgun in a man’s grasp comes into view. A woman appears in the gunman’s sights. Shots are fired.
But this was no game. It was the chilling video by a killer of him stalking his prey – two television journalists live on-air for a station in the US state of Virginia.
A small audience will have witnessed the attack live on TV. But internet users, even if only for a brief time, had a first-person view of his horrific crime after the killer fired off tweets while on the run and then posted his sickening video online.
“This seems like we’re turning a new page in the internet era,” Endpoint Technologies Associates analyst Roger Kay said.
“It’s definitely a new frontier. Except for ISIS, really nobody has done this.”
Hours after the shooting, the 56-second video clip apparently taken by gunman Vester Lee Flanagan, also known as Bryce Williams, went viral, before it was removed from social media sites.
Tweets and the video were posted to a Twitter account with the handle @Bryce_Williams7 and also on Facebook. Flanagan died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after fleeing the scene.
Social media sites remove video
The first-person video was shared at Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, while imagery from the television broadcast spread online in a disturbing example of the speed and power of social media.
Auto-play features that instantly launch videos at Facebook or Twitter resulted in some viewers being shown startling imagery before having time to consider whether they wanted to see it.
A Facebook page where the first-person video had been uploaded and its associated profile were removed for violating terms of service that include a ban on “celebrating any crimes you’ve committed”, according to the social network.
The video posted to Twitter was removed on the grounds it violated its media policies. Twitter stuck to its practice of refusing to discuss details of individual accounts.
Copies of the first-person shooting video posted at YouTube were similarly quickly taken down, but at least one copy was still visible late on Wednesday with a search as simple as “Virginia”.
“I know it’s a sad occurrence, but leave a Like so this can spread faster,” a YouTube user who uploaded a copy of the shooter’s video said in a chat forum beneath the post, before it too was removed.
–with Glenn Chapman, AFP