I turn my laptop away from my husband, mute the volume, and let the horror make my head go dizzy and my stomach turn upside-down. Sometimes he catches me.
Last night he said, “What is wrong with your face? Why do you look like that?”
Journalist Brianna Snyder appeared on the podcast, speaking very frankly about how she used to be compelled to watch violent, extreme content on the internet after a crisis of her own mortality.
Personally I was very moved reading her article, as it’s a rare thing to have someone speak to honestly about viewing such material, and the psychological toll it can have on people who have seen it. It’s well worth a read, but be warned it does deal with very dark subject matter.
On episode 5 of this series of the Digital Human podcast (link to show below), we explored violent content online – why we criticise those facilitating the supply we rarely talk about the demand. Aleks Krotoski asks who views it and why.
One of our guests was Russell Ryland, who moderated the now banned Watch People Die subreddit, who explained why so many people were drawn to watch such content, and how they were demonised in the mainstream media as violent and hateful, without speaking to any of them.
Here is an archived comment thread where users explained why the were subscribers, and even how they believed viewing the content had improved rather than damaged their lives.
Researchers also found that fear of terrorism and having a history of violent victimization appear to draw individuals to this highly graphic coverage – and that watching such videos was associated with global distress and fear of the future about two years after they went viral. The report appears in American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association.
“Our study is the first to identify the motivations behind viewing a beheading video and the long-term consequences of doing so,” said senior author Roxane Cohen Silver, UCI professor of psychological science. “Our findings suggest that when individuals are afraid of horrific acts of cruelty occurring in the world, they may be curious to seek out graphic coverage of these types of events. But this may only exacerbate their distress and anxiety over time, locking them into a spiral of fear.”
Violent content online has rightly been condemned. Yet while we criticise those facilitating the supply we rarely talk about the demand. In episode 5 of this series of Digital Human, Aleks Krotoski asks who views it and why.
In this clip Journalist Brianna Snyder recalls an occasion when her curiosity got the better of her, and lead to her being compelled to view extreme content online.
Hey guys, all episodes of series 17 are available to download both from BBC Sounds and on iTunes. So if you’re the binging type when it comes to audio check it out. Especially check out our 100th episode special, the Analogue Human – we loved cutting that on tape.
A survey of Italian mothers who engage in ‘sharenting’ suggests they are motivated by both a desire for external validation, as well as more communitarian goals such as sharing moments with distant relatives and seeking support. But while many mothers see it as their right to engage in sharenting, what implications does this have for children’s rights and privacy?
What is truth is an oft asked question, especially online. This is a cool article digging into the plethora of made up stuff on Twitter, you should check it out 🙂
In his 1999 statement of principles known as the “Minnesota Declaration,” Werner Herzog gave an explanation of his theory of “ecstatic truth”. Cinema Verité, Herzog tells us, deals only with “superficial truth, the truth of accountants.” “One well-known representative of Cinema Verité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents the amount of written law and legal procedures. ‘For me,’ he says, ‘there should be only one single law: the bad guys should go to jail.’”
In this, Herzog says, such realism “confounds facts and truth”: “Facts create norms, and truth illumination.” But luckily, against the realists, “There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.” In his work (most notably, his documentaries), Herzog seeks this “ecstatic truth”: to reflect reality not how it is on the surface, but how it is on a deep level, beyond the façade of what we merely perceive.
Of course this is difficult, and can go wrong — it can stray into a sort of dishonesty that it is impossible to even contest by means of verification. But when it works, it can tell us something we are unable to reach by means of engagement with surface reality alone — the essential truth, for instance, of engaging with British politics being like a posh teenager disinterestedly daring you to drink a big bucket of vomit and piss.
“Life in the oceans must be sheer hell,” Herzog concludes. “A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of a hell that during evolution some species — including man — crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.”
This what bothers me about those fake viral Twitter stories. They lack anything like ecstatic truth; they don’t reflect or reveal any reality deeper than what they describe. In this, they have only facts — and of course, as it turns out, they don’t even have that. If the stories had never posed as true, they would not have gone viral in the slightest. Like A Million Little Pieces or the hoax misery memoirs of JT Leroy, these stories need — regardless of any other formal accomplishments — to pose as true in order to make an impact on their audience. (Once you realize it’s not true, the Morris thread is literally just a guy saying: “Oh, and then this happened! And then hero (who I’ve made up) outwitted the drug dealers — wow! And he got away with it! Juh? How cool!”). Likewise, the Didn’t Happen lads seem determined to reduce all truth to mere facts, completely blind to the possibility that there could be more to the world than that — they don’t care about ecstatic truth at all.
The internet is causing more and more fake things to leak into our consciousness every day. But this is only really a problem if the fakes don’t contribute anything to our understanding of the world. We need to stop asking: is this true? We must instead ask: supposing this is true… what is its truth worth?
Age thirteen. At an audition downtown in a studio with floor to ceiling windows I empty out my heart at the barre and during center exercises, hoping for a spot in Boston Ballet’s summer workshop. When my name isn’t called, I cry in a too-bright dressing room that smells of sweaty bodies and Diet Coke. I’m naked and still sobbing when a woman with a dancer’s bun and street shoes sticks her head in to offer those of us not selected a chance to speak to the director. It’s a chance to learn what we should work on. A chance to strengthen our audition for next year.
I dress quickly and wipe my face with a paper towel. In the studio, the director pulls out my audition card. It’s blank as an asylum wall. Not a single box is checked. Not a single note scribbled. There’s nothing written on it but the number they assigned me at check-in. He flips it over and there are two letters written in pencil: “OW.” Ah, he says. We don’t process applications for dancers who are overweight.
My universe collapses under the weight of those two letters. Ballet is nothing more than a shimmering illusion. It’s just like home and all the other places where my body is Too Big, where I Don’t Fit In, where There’s No Place For Me.
In their 1956 article, “Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction: Observations on Intimacy at a distance,” Horton and Wohl described both parasocial relationships and parasocial interaction for the first time. They used the terms somewhat interchangeably, but mostly focused their exploration on the illusion of conversational give-and-take a media consumer experiences with a media figure while watching a TV show or listening to a radio program.
This led to some conceptual confusion. Although a great deal of research has been done on parasocial phenomena, especially since the 1970s and 1980s, the most widely utilized scale in that research, the Parasocial Interaction Scale, combines questions about parasocial interactions and parasocial relationships. However, today, scholars generally agree the two concepts are related but different.
When a media consumer feels like they are interacting with a media figure—a celebrity, fictional character, radio host, or even a puppet—during a discrete viewing or listening scenario, they are experiencing a parasocial interaction. For example, if a viewer feels like they are hanging out at the Dunder-Mifflin office while watching the TV comedy The Office, they are engaging in a parasocial interaction.
On the other hand, if the media user imagines a long-term bond with a media figure that extends outside the viewing or listening situation, it is considered a parasocial relationship. The bond can be either positive or negative. For instance, if an individual adores the host of their local morning program and often thinks about and discusses the host as if he is one of their friends, that individual has a parasocial relationship with the host.
Scholars have observed that parasocial interactions can lead to parasocial relationships, and parasocial relationships can strengthen parasocial interactions. This process resembles the way that spending time with a person in real-life can result in a friendship that then gets deeper and more committed when the individuals spend additional time together.
I would spend most of my day looking for articles on relationship issues, taking online quizzes, and ruminating on what I read online,” says Victoria, 23, from Spain. “It was a very tiring process. The relief would only last for a short while – and then the doubts would creep back in.”
Victoria has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). When she was younger, this meant that she was plagued with religious obsessions, and felt compelled to beg for forgiveness a specific number of times every time she did something ‘wrong.’ But over the years, her fixations have shifted toward love and sexual attraction.
Now, Victoria constantly questions whether she is in the right relationship, and regularly doubts her sexual orientation. She spends hours online looking for information to determine whether she is heterosexual and if she really loves her boyfriend. “Google is the worst enemy for people with OCD,” she says, with exasperation. “It’s the perfect vessel for reassurance-seeking compulsions. Googling allowed me to endlessly feed my obsession without anyone telling me to ‘shut up about it already’.”