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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Magazine, Volume One Nov-Dec 2023.
The war aided by digital technology: can we really win over it?
by Prof (Dr) Debarati Halder.
When I am writing this piece in India, we are celebrating Vijaya Dashami, the annual Hindu festival of winning over negative energies by Goddess Durga, the ultimate divine power in Hinduism. Most of us enjoy the days by doing pujas at home, visiting temples and community places and joining the celebrations with music and dance. YouTube plays a big role in enhancing the festive spirit for people who stay away from their homes. Most of us enjoy the festive vibe by watching the Durga Puja over the digital screen, communicate with each other and greet each other over internet and digital communication technology based platforms.
But this year the digital screen based festivity has taken a different shape. Almost every news channel on YouTube are busy sharing the devastating consequences of Hamas –Israel conflict. Such news items are again being shared by certain influencers and content creators who may make money from the ‘views’ they get out of their contents. What is more painful is the scene of children wounded in the war. The presentations in the YouTube platform are enough to create extremely disturbing spell on the minds of the viewers including children and young adults. Majority of the conflict related contents are created on grieving parents, dead bodies being uncovered by shocked and traumatized relatives including the parents and children, wounded civilians being rescued and the crying faces of people who are directly or indirectly affected by the war.
The more the contents are being shared by authorized news channels, the more the contents are being re-shared by private content creators with customized background noise and selected edited clippings that are psychologically extremely disturbing for majority of the viewers. Question is: (i) are the content creators aware about the rules that prohibit sharing images of children affected due to conflicts? (ii) why people are ‘viewing’ images of wounded children and adults (mostly parents) ?
There are no data available for the first question as of now, as this is a very new phenomenon in the form of old wine in new bottle. Sine YouTube has created a platform for revenue generation, many people have been surviving on the revenue generated from the ‘views’ they get on their contents. This has encouraged content creators to create contents on subjects that may have the ability to attract the attention of viewers.
Unfortunately, contents depicting sexuality, sexual and physical abuse, pain, emotional breakdowns etc., may attract more views (even if it is for couple of seconds) than contents with positive subjects like creativity, gardening, educational video series, awareness building videos etc. I call this as ‘old wine in new bottle phenomena’ because there are numerous contents on aftermath of mass shooting, motor vehicle accidents, natural calamities, terrorism related violence etc, created by private content creators as well as by small to medium level news channels in the past few years.
Consider the videos on 2004 Tsunami, or the Himalayan tsunami that had happened in India, or mass shooting attacks : these were re-shared by many content creators and they received many views as well as comments which further made them prominently searchable on internet platforms. But the 2023 Israel-Hamas conflict related contents are larger in volume than the others. There is an urgent need for research as how many content creators are sharing such information as the stakeholders need to know the volume of creators who are spreading information about the present conflict especially images of wounded, grieving and dead children . Such data will be helpful to find out whether such creators are aware of the rules related to online child protection and safety.
Let me now discuss about the second question: why people are viewing images of war affected children. This is directly connected with psychology of viewers. Several researches have suggested that people may view such violent contents on the screen to get a sadistic pleasure. Such contents may have been created with a positive intention to share the actual consequences of war and its effect on innocent civilians, especially children. But this ‘intention’ may have been dominated now with intentions of profit gaining by sharing and enhancing visual victimization, online religious hatred and above all ethnic and political enmity. One content creator may influence thousands of viewers to share hate comments and this escalates with every content creator who may continue to share the clippings of children affected by armed conflict.
Is this really a war between State and non-state actors which in turn is affecting many civilians from different jurisdictions? Or is this a never ending war with the aid of digital technology? I would prefer to say this is a never ending war with the aid of digital technology. Greed for making money by showcasing victimization of war affected people especially children on the cyber platforms has turned individuals into shameless monsters. Unless the healthy minded society unitedly prevent such visual victimization, this war will never end.
May peace prevail.
© Prof (Dr) Debarati Halder
Prof(Dr) Debarati Halder, LL.B, LL.M( International & Constitutional Law), LLM(Criminal & Security Laws), Ph.D(Law) (NLSIU, Bangalore) is engaged as Professor of Law at Parul Institute of Law, Parul University (NAAC A++)LL.B, LL.M( International & Constitutional Law), LLM(Criminal & Security Laws), Ph.D(Law) (NLSIU, Bangalore). More about her can be found https://wordpress.com/page/internetlegalstudies.com/1130.