#Livestreaming and the potential for vicarious trauma. A young girls suicide. What next?

This blog may contain distressing and possibly traumatising material. There are no pictures or videos, just words to minimise vicarious trauma, however, the content contains a detailed reference to suicide and young people.

Yesterday (6 Jan 2017), I happened to see a post about a young girl who completed suicide. Let me explain why this particular post has many levels of impact. Indeed theses posts always have a profound effect on me due to a number of factors. These are my empathic and compassionate world view, my place in the world as a mother, daughter, sister, friend, enemy….well to put it another way; human being and my role as a child trauma therapist.

In today’s society and the availability of here and now immediate news, it probably isn’t that uncommon to ‘happen upon’ news like this on social media. Especially when numerous contacts share it voraciously. Gone are the days of next day news or even weekly roundups from your local community. Today is about now. Right now.

As this immediacy effect is becoming part and partial of most peoples lives, in regards to social media, developers of this technology are finding ways to ‘feed’ this. Obviously, this is business-driven (money/greed you decide) and perhaps morals and ethics are laid to one side in order to ‘maximise impact and growth for our platform ‘ “mwahahahaha” (BTW I’m just guessing with a little artistic licence this is what is said). And so the need to be ahead of other developers is, well ahead of the game. Cue parable about the industrial revolution etc.

So apps like Meerkat, Periscope (Twitter) and Facebook Live (other apps exist also but these are the popular ones) have appeared to allow users to stream live to you. One of the remarkable things about these apps is they often have a geotagging service where you can ‘tap into’ anyone’s live stream when they are available. (For those of you who are not technologically minded this means you can click on a highlighted spot and see someone’s live feed).

The worrying thing about this technology is you have no power/consent/pre-watershed warning about the content of the live feed. You could see a fairly mundane video or you could see some of the following: Masturbating, Violence, Abuse, Torture, Domestic Abuse, Child Sexual Abuse (a top concern for the Police BTW), Rape, Murder or even a young girls Suicide.

No, I’m not kidding. THIS HAPPENS FOR REAL.

What’s so difficult about this subject matter is on a number of levels. I will try and limit the blog to highlighted points and try to refrain from using too much ‘jargon’.

Firstly; Vicarious trauma is a real thing. It happens almost like wifi and is transmitted to you and you ARE affected by witnessing a traumatic event. You may think not, however, there is a large amount of research that can dispute otherwise. (To keep this simple we have lots of biological reactions that we can measure). You may even be affected by these words to be fair and for that, I invite you to talk to someone about this blog to help you manage and soothe your distress. This is a research-based tool and its why therapy really exists because we know that putting a narrative (story) to our experiences is healing.

Secondly, we are fascinated by the horror of another’s suffering. It is said when we enjoy this its called schadenfreude. This is why ‘You’ve Been Framed’ was successful and video compilations called ‘Fails” exist. We are drawn to watch, yet horrified for doing so. Another fun-filled fact is Animals are not. This is part of being a human being. Some people like it more than others and some people don’t want to look. Those who don’t want to look/watch tend to do much more cognitive processing and have empathic thinking around the content/future of the event. No that is not to say these humans are superior, it is to say they think and feel differently.

Thirdly, we are drawn to shock others, and this is about connection. Let me explain briefly, its why art can exist in the way it does. It’s why the news has the impact it does. On social media, we often share things that we dislike in order to have a conversation and to put a meaning and narrative to our experience. In the case of this young girl who completed suicide, there was an attempt to connect. As I didn’t know the girl either personally or professionally I can only speculate that she wanted to connect in some way about her current state of being. I will not be posting the details or link but I will say that she suffered depression, not just sadness, real depression (Yes diagnosed as she was reportedly taking medication). Depression is a hopeless, futile and lonely place. For a child, this is reportedly much more difficult due to the way in which the brain works and to be using medication may well have complicated this all the more. What I do know is she live-streamed the setting up of the scene as well as the act itself. She talked to the phone camera in an attempt to connect. I wonder with whom?

Anyone of us can speculate that this may have been about the stereotypical; “a cry for help” and perhaps she did really want someone to save her. Perhaps she wanted to use this as a piece of art, a legacy, a lesson, a rebellious ‘fuck you’ statement or perhaps this was about something else? We will never know. What I definitely can say is this must have been devastating for her parents who are heard calling her name almost 20/30 minutes after she died in the background. I wonder if the location was important. I wonder if she had been missing beforehand or if this was because of something in particular that had happened. I know this is terribly, terribly sad.

I wonder who the people were that watched and why? I wonder how long they watched? I wonder how much people were shocked, appalled, traumatised, enjoyed, revelled in this? (and other psychologically imbalanced acts that I will omit from this post) I wonder who shared it and why? I wonder why this platform. I wonder how many of you may even go to look for this post elsewhere.

I wonder what will become acceptable in the future for us to watch and share?

I have deliberately not discussed desensitisation here as this is a slightly different tangent, although relevant. Ive already written 1000 plus words. Go grab a cup of tea and talk to someone about this. Share this post. Let’s start asking about the potential risks/dangers/implications of #Livestreaming

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