Think about why you share


In the past several weeks, mixed in among the statuses and dank memes, I’ve seen something disturbing repeatedly shared on Facebook. You’ve probably seen it too–the video of the young disabled man who was held and tortured by four other young men and women. If you want to know the details, there’s been extensive coverage on several news outlets, so you can look it up if you want to.
What concerns me is that people continue to share the video itself.
To be clear, the actual incident should disturb you regardless of your politics. In my own feed, I saw a range of people posting, but I was perplexed that it included supposed disability advocates and anti-racist liberals, and I want to encourage you to take this moment in time as an example of why you should carefully consider what you share.
It’s enormously helpful that we can have videos of crimes and even that, in some cases, criminals feel compelled to record themselves for whatever reason. Videos are clear evidence that something happened, and sharing them on social media preserves that evidence by copying it in multiple locations. Thus, sharing can amplify a story that isn’t being heard, and draw attention to injustice.
But continuing to share it when it’s already viral and when the perpetrators of the crime are already going to trial is disrespectful to the victim. At this point, the only purpose served by sharing the video itself is as entertainment -the kind meant to shock and outrage, but entertainment nonetheless.
Consider sharing, instead of the video, an article about the incident–or just summarizing and starting a conversation about what we can do. There is rampant abuse of people with disabilities–it’s most certainly a topic that needs discussed.
I am always disturbed by how little attention is paid to the abuse (of all types) of people with disabilities, but why did this story become so high-profile? Why did the story of the white teenager who brutally raped his black, disabled teammate, and recently took a plea deal that allows him to serve no time, not also get so much attention? These crimes are both gross examples of a repeating pattern of abuse, but only in one story–so far–is justice not being served.
I worry that this story has been shared in some cases not out of concern for the victim, but out of perverse joy that the perpetrators were black. I have seen even staunch anti-racists share this video as if to ask for an explanation–forgetting that individuals do not represent entire categories of people. That’s a lesson we need to cling to if we are to change patterns that put the most vulnerable at risk of harm.
This video isn’t the only example of these sharing dynamics, just a recent one. I encourage you, looking forward, to think carefully about your values, your friends and followers, and your motivations before you share the next viral piece of news. If everything is in order, spread the word. But don’t let the speed and ease of this type of communication stop you from thinking about what you’re sharing or how you’re sharing it.