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Social media sheds light on modern day tragedies

Social media is changing the way the world gets news, and it’s made people like George Floyd and Gabby Petito world famous.

In the Floyd case, video footage became a key element of the prosecution’s case. Without video, it’s very likely that Derek Chauvin would have gotten away with murder.

It would have been the word of four officers against the word of crowd members on a street corner in a poor neighborhood of Minneapolis. There would have been no way to prove that kneeling on Floyd’s neck involved nine minutes.

Good investigative reporting might have raised a brutality issue, but it probably would not have led to action against the officers. Many bystanders would have been reluctant to go on the record with what they observed.

It would probably have taken at least one junior officer with a guilty conscience. That wouldn’t have been likely. They’re trained to follow orders, not to question a superior.

Those facts show the historical injustices that sometimes confronted the poor and minorities. If the exact same situation had happened in the past at a country club and the witnesses would have been wealthy Caucasians, the officers would have faced serious issues.

They would most likely have acted differently in the first place. They probably wouldn’t have used as much force, and wouldn’t have felt threatened by their audience.

Instead justice in the Floyd case depended greatly on social media. The evidence became undeniable. It horrified millions of people, including the jury.

Social media became a game changer again this fall in the missing persons situation involving Gabby Petito, a situation that also captured worldwide interest.

She had posted extensively about her cross country vacation with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie. The video footage made her appear happy. No one would have guessed that something was about to go horribly wrong.

Everyone was shocked by the traffic stop footage, and by the manhunt for the boyfriend. Without the combination of video footage, she might have just become one of many missing persons.

Laundrie might have gone home with a cover story about how they peacefully parted ways. Possibly evidence would have turned up, but it’s also possible that he might have been able to cover his tracks. It would have perhaps turned into an “unsolved mystery”.

On the surface it might seem like the modern trend toward phone video relating to tragedies is morbid. It might appear to indicate that society in general is obsessed with violence.

To appreciate the significance, it’s important to look historically at how tragedy has been portrayed. Ancient Greek playwrights tried to make sense of it. So did Shakespeare and other theatrical writers during the later stages of the Renaissance.

They acted out on stage elements of murder, violence and betrayal that were impossible to fully understand in real life. Soldiers who went to war and people who experienced violent incidents knew what it was like, but the general public was insulated.

That continued right through World War II, as radio and movie footage only alluded to the horrors of war. It wasn’t until the Vietnam era that televised war scenes made their way into living rooms across the world.

Many moderate middle class people were shocked to see it televised, to have a firsthand view of deaths in Southeast Asian jungles. Some of them responded with sympathy for the nationwide anti-war movement. Since then the reality factor has affected society. There’s never been another military draft.

Social media is likely to be the next logical step in bringing society toward a better understanding of man’s inhumanity toward man.

There’s great potential for a positive transformation. It might become a way to deter violence. It’s not likely to end violence completely, but hopefully at least some lives can be saved.

— Jim Muchlinski is a longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent

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