Stanescu-Bellu: Invasive Entertainment

Internet oversharing has reached an all-time high, but at what cost?

by Sofia Stanescu-Bellu | 1/11/18 12:45am

When most people stumble upon something horrific, their first reaction likely isn’t taking out a camera or recording device — at least this was not the case a mere few years ago. Now, with the advancement of technology and the changing role of social media platforms, such an event would be shared via Snapchat, live-streamed, posted on Facebook or added to Instagram stories. In the case of vlogger Logan Paul, his medium of choice was YouTube.

Last week, Internet celebrity Logan Paul rightly faced backlash after he stumbled upon the body of someone who had committed suicide in Japan’s “Sea of Trees” at the base of Mount Fuji. Paul filmed the entire event, including his and his entourage’s reactions, and uploaded the video with a thumbnail showing the victim on YouTube. Fingers could be pointed at YouTube for allowing the video to go up in the first place, and for not taking it down, and most evidently at Paul himself for filming the scene, taking the time to edit the video and uploading it anyway. But a finger could, and should, be pointed at “us,” the audience.

What Paul did is despicable and should be condemned. Yet, as he stated in the first version of his public apology, “I get views” — millions in fact, with the average video on Paul’s channel racking up five million views. Every outrageous stunt he performs increases the views on his videos and consequently, his revenue. Without some interest in his content, Paul would not have achieved the level of Internet fame that he currently does.

Society today has acquired a morbid curiosity for the invasive and ridiculous. The “click-bait” epidemic on sites like YouTube lures people to videos with titles, such as “THE TRUTH ABOUT MY PAST,” “KISSING PRANK ON STRANGERS” or in the case of Logan Paul, “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…” Why do titles like these draw millions of clicks and views? Because humans are nosy creatures, and social media has only nourished this addiction.

Established companies like Snap cater to this nosiness by adding features such as maps, allowing users to see where their friends are located when they utilize the app. Everything is voluntary, of course — each user has the option to opt out of this feature and keep their location hidden, but the simple fact that such a feature is available is a testament to this addiction to oversharing, an intrusive and almost voyeuristic desire for content that one normally cannot access: someone’s location, intimate moments, shame when subjected to an embarrassing prank and, apparently, now even death. What has happened to basic human decency?

Television shows like Netflix’s “Black Mirror” claim that technology is to blame for events like these, for the loss of control over our lives and for the invisible switch that seems to have been turned on to make every step we take (literally) a public affair for tens, hundreds, thousands and even millions of people. But we cannot fully blame technology for allowing things to get this far. We ought to take a more introspective look at the role we have played as a society — not just as an audience, but as distributors of this content. Those of us who have chosen to share parts of our lives on the internet have directly fed into this phenomenon.

This is not to say that we should not post anything personal online — that would be hypocritical. I do it, you probably do it and so do at least two billion people worldwide on Facebook alone. For better or for worse, sharing information online has become a part of many of our daily lives, with considerable benefits. I am, however, arguing for a sort of conscious consumerism: to distinguish between entertainment and an invasion of the minimum basic level of human privacy. Entertainment should not be used to take advantage of, hurt, offend or expose a part of someone’s life without consent. If we as viewers and users of the internet do not take action, we may find ourselves in a not-so-distant future in which no part of our lives is sacred and everything we have is aired out to the world for public scrutiny or enjoyment.