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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novel Mute is available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A new wave of viral violence begins with brutality on live stream

As social media evolves to become more instantaneous than ever, viral violence has once again hijacked the ride.

Why wait five seconds to post a video of your life? Services like Facebook Live and Periscope provide a real-time look at what’s in front of your face. With instant audience metrics and feedback, they make life like a mini TV station. What more can the host do in that moment to grow an audience and go viral?

Four teenagers in Chicago found a way to juice their Facebook Live viewership past 15,000. They kidnapped a mental disabled teenager they went to high school with, tied him up, mercilessly beat him, cut his scalp with a knife, and taunted him with racial insults. The victim was white and the attackers were black, so this might be classified as a hate crime.

The video went on for 30 minutes on one of the suspect’s Facebook Live page, with viewership building as the seconds tick by. Facebook removed the video after the four suspects were arrested.

This story has some strange parallels to my novel Famous After Death. In my story, the teenagers are also abusing victims for the gratification of an online audience. However, they mostly posted the videos after the fact, using public wifi and a device that couldn’t be traced directly to them, and they didn’t put their faces in the video. When there is an attack in my book that is filmed live on the internet, it’s the victim’s camera phone being used for the live broadcast, not the attacker’s phone. They don’t want to be caught!

With these suspects in Chicago, they acted with zero regard for evading capture. Not only did one suspect post this on a Facebook profile using a personal device, they all appeared in the video. You know, just to make sure there’s no doubt. Yet, like the characters in my novel, there was a pack mentality. Get a bunch of people together with bad intentions and a camera, and the watch their aggression multiply.

Were these teenagers so proud that they could beat the poor guy that they wanted to show the world?

Here’s the other thing that gets me. Did any one of the Facebook Live viewers bother calling the police?

Violence can’t go viral unless an audience supports it.

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