It’s been a little over a week since the fatal shooting of a news crew in Virginia. For those in the media world, especially the TV business, it was something that hit all too close to home. And because of a new social media feature, the aftermath of the shooting was far more detailed than many of us ever expected.
Alison was doing a job I had done many times: A live shot.
“How did she not notice him?” was one of the many comments I read online after people watched the video of Alison and Adam’s death during WDBJ’s morning show. The answer is quite simple – she was concentrated on filling her 1:30 with engaging content. On getting the message across. On being a good reporter. On doing her job. In the position she was in, bystanders are the least of your concern. In fact, you do your best to ignore them.
Plus, it’s important to consider the nature of the story. Reporters are placed in dangerous environments on a regular basis, but standing outside and talking to a chamber director is certainly not one of them.
How do we really know that she didn’t notice him? Because her killer, Vester Flanagan, had the audacity to film it all. Flanagan made a twitter account only days before his brutal act, where he identified himself with his stage name, “Bryce Williams” – and then used the account to post graphic, sickening tweets for people all over the world to see.
I made the mistake many made. When a CNN reporter first tweeted that Alison and Adam’s killer had a twitter account, I clicked on his handle. It happened to be right when he was live-tweeting. I knew it wasn’t something twitter was going to tolerate for long, so I took a snap.
— Maximilian Hess (@max_hess) August 26, 2015
Soon after that, he posted a video. At this point, we had all already seen the shooting from the perspective of Adam’s camera. Little did we know that Vester took a video as well – and posted it not only to Twitter, but also Facebook.
Didn’t want to watch it?
You may have not had a choice. In late 2013, Facebook announced the introduction of “AutoPlay.” Intended to increase video views by 10%, the AutoPlay feature enables users to watch videos on their timeline by simply scrolling past them, and without clicking “play” to get them started. In June of this year, Twitter followed. Genius, right? Well, not so genius when it’s a video of a cold-blooded murder. Check out some of the tweets in the gallery below.
Long story short: some people, even if they started to realize what they were watching and clicked away, at least began to see a double-murder from the perspective of the perpetrator – and the sad thing is that’s probably exactly what Flanagan wanted. Facebook and Twitter removed the videos not long after they were posted, but it was far too late. A simple Google search gives you hundreds of copied versions.
Social media is a continuously evolving world. Most of the time, when the social giants come out with some “cool new feature,” it’s intended to improve user experience. But in this case, the negative consequences of a seemingly positive improvement were simply not considered. And sadly, that resulted in thousands of people seeing a brutal, graphic, fatal video – at the tip of their fingers, online, and in HD.