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BW Businessworld

The Things People Share

Much is made of sharing on social networks even though it’s bringing to the surface disturbing facets of human behaviour

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

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Among the many disturbing things that have happened online and on social networks in the past few days, the suicide of a teenage girl in France has got to be the most chilling. Not because she was just 19 and should have had her life ahead of her and instead ended it, which is bad enough, but because she chose to live broadcast her death on Periscope.

To remind you, Periscope is an app owned by Twitter, which works on a smartphone and needs no expertise at all to use. At the press of a button, a user can live broadcast anything at all and anyone discovering the stream on the app or via Twitter can watch.

The girl seems rather calm as she explains she is about to kill herself and says that she is not doing this for the ‘buzz’ but for people to react and have an open mind. I can’ t even pretend to understand why that should matter when you’re about to end your life, but it’s obvious that the tools technology gives can be used in ways no one would have imagined.

Not long ago, someone live streamed a rape and of course, terrorists now have a standard operating procedure of broadcasting brutal violence. In fact, the other disturbing thing this week is that the IS has launched a Jihadist app to train children in their terminology. Violence exhibited online isn’t new, including murders.

After the girl from France announced her intentions, the reactions of people watching were no less disturbing. “C’est mieux,’ said one person, meaning that’s better. “On attend,” said another, meaning we’re waiting. It was only when she moved away that watchers began to panic and began to talk of calling the police, identified the train station and put up phone numbers. Strangely, the live stream got continuous likes. Parts of the video that are still online, mercifully, don’t show that the girl threw herself under a commuter train. And yes, a girl did die. Investigations are on and the facts may change — but it’s still a deeply disquieting incident just as it is.

When Mark Zuckerberg evangelises emphatically the need to connect everyone in the world and extols the virtues of sharing, this is probably not what he means. But it’s happening nevertheless.

Being connected and being able to share on social networks is clearly changing or bringing to the surface facets of human behaviour that are truly disturbing. For instance this week also, three teenagers, around the age of fourteen, live-streamed themselves indulging in sexual acts together on Facebook.

When Periscope was launched, I had a strong feeling it was a ticking time bomb. While the future of live streaming should be considered very carefully, it’s really what the ability to share and broadcast is doing to us as humans that should be thought out more than ever.

Not everyone will broadcast sex and violence and it’s quite possible that the people wanting to do so already have psychological problems. But is it also possible that the technology tools available are making violent or bizarre acts more likely?

In the past, it hasn’t been rare to find that someone wanting to commit suicide by threatening to jump off a ledge has ended up collecting a big crowd. Today you don’t need to do that — an unlimited crowd is available apparently at the press of a button. All the impact your heart desires is there, if you want it. Is the temptation to create a sensation, to perhaps hit back at society, or to just be exhibitionistic, too much to resist?