Recently, a reporter and a cameraman were killed on live TV, by a disgruntled ex-employee who committed suicide thereafter. Killing people on camera isn’t the newest phenomenon. In 1960 a Japanese politician was stabbed with a Wakizashi on national television. What makes this shooting so shocking is that, this was done. What’s changed is that the video is from the First-Person perspective of the shooter, Vester Lee Flanagan, a video he uploaded on YouTube for the world to see as well as shared his crime all over Social Media. Flanagan was no better or worse than other public shooters. However he introduced a new perspective of public crime and showed the dark side of social media.
The First Person POV Narrative
Narratives offer a variety of different ways of viewing it. In most stories they can be divided into the 3rd-person the “he/she”, the 2nd-person “you” and the 1st-person “I”. Of these three the 1st-person is the most commonly used to allow the viewer a closer perspective inside the narrator’s mind (the I character) which focuses solely on their development.
With many public criminals who leave it to newscasts to offer a aftermath of their deeds, this offers a more distant 3rd-person narrative of said criminal and are at the mercy to how the news channel portrays it either neutrally or negatively.
Unlike most major extremists, Flanagan saw fit to record his crime to drive his point home. By being the first person to utilize the power of social media to offer a first-person viewpoint, he framed the narrative through his eyes. This is one of the reasons why the counter-narrative eulogizing the two reporters, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, celebrating their lives and overshadow Flanagan’s crime.
An extremist POV
Attention-seeking and extremism often go hand in hand, whether as those carrying out extreme actions often wish to make sure their message is seen by as much people as possible. With organized terrorism, the most popular group gains the most prestige, recruits and funding, the more graphic their deeds. It’s why Osama Bin Laden kept posting videos after video to maintain Al-Qaeda’s image even after U.S. efforts to eradicate them. The Islamic State’s strength and power is derived from it’s slick propaganda machine which has allowed it to control its narrative for enemies, rival groups and potential recruits.
In the same way, mass-shooters or those committing public crimes have often posted their views online, such as Dylann Roof the church shooter. Flanagan published his own race manifesto as a response to Dylann Roof online. Even with his video his social media efforts have been extreme,
The power of Social Media
With Facebook newsfeeds and Google news, any news from around the world reaches us faster than ever, sometimes while the news is happening. In marketing, latching onto viral events is a tactic to push one’s brand though it can and has been used for stupid purposes (such as comparing veterans to Nazis). However being the news one’s message will spread far. YouTube had taken down Flanagan’s video (though it can still be found on other sites) and their is a strong debate whether it is ethical to see it or not. But the fact that we know of it and what it is, a first-person POV of Flanagan’s actions, what he wanted us to see is enough.
With the increase of new social media channels like Periscope, offering closer and more ever-present glimpses into their life, we will have to brace ourselves for more potential extremists emulating Flanagan and adopting his first-person POV technique.