Wednesday, 24 September 2008

When does freedom of expression become a threat?

Over the last 24 hours I have found myself asking this question. The reason why? Yesterday morning a 22 year old Finnish man, called Matti Juhani Saari entered a college in Finland and opened fire with what is believed to be an automatic pistol. By the time he had finished, ten students had died. Saari also turned the gun on himself, inflicting a fatal gunshot wound.

Why should this be of interest to those of us who teach the Media? Because Saari had used You Tube the week before to post violent videos of himself shooting a gun. The police were alerted and intervened. However, Saari was allowed to keep his guns on a temporary licence.

The story has terrible echoes of a similar incident in Finland a year ago, when a teenage gunman shot dead nine students. He too had posted a video on You Tube, revealing the time and location of his planned attack. On that occasion, the posting went un-noticed until it was too late.

You Tube is one of the great revelations of the internet age, yet the power of the moving image, and the ease with which a global audience can be found, brings with it inherent risks. Inevitably, we can expect to see the Hypodemic Syringe theory being rolled out over the next few days. We may hear the now usual story of how the student was a loner, played violent video games, and had a passion for heavy metal lyrics that advocated death and destruction. It's an easy line to take and perhaps gives shape to the unthinkable, in a way that's easy for many audiences to understand.

The problem is, of course, that such simplification glosses over deeper problems. This young man's psyche must have been terribly troubled indeed, but can we blame the media for what occurred?

The challenge for You Tube will be to find ways of tracking content automatically and searching for clues to inappropriate material. As the events of yesterday demonstrated with terrible clarity, however, even early detection isn't enough, if the official response is not swift and robust.

There is a need for users, commentators and legal enforcement officials to consider carefully how best to proceed.

We should all have the right to express an opinion. But when the opinions expressed present a threat to the wellbeing of the poster or to others, then some form of censorship should be enacted.

From an educational perspective, it is clear that greater efforts must be made to educate our students about the inherent risks of posting content online without due regard for how it might be interpreted by others; while also teaching them to be alert to virtual threats that could cross over from the hyper-reality of the online environment and enter the land of the living.

There's a good review from CNN of the events at the following link:

1 comment: said...

This is an interesting topic as what caused the student to do such a terrible thing in the first place? was it something he watch on youtube or even t.v i'm sure that if it was discoverd he had a playstation fingers would be pointing at gta (do violent games create violent people?). also would he have still done this terrible crime if he had not posted it on youtube? could it have been a last minute cry for help or someone to speak to?

the media has huge power to change moods and opinions music is a HUGE example of this, some music fire you up, others calm you down. Shops use music to make their customers buy their products with this almost brain washing capability should it be censored or is that infringing on human rights, predominantly freedom of speech

I believe that people have the illusion of free speech as there are certain things that you cannot and should not talk about, if speech was truly free then hypothetically we could have the KKK in the uk legaly, is this right? would there be a more rapid spread of islamic extremismism and terrorism?

The issue of freedom of speech throws up many moral and ethical decisions but is there a compromise? can anything be proved instead of relying on theory? if freedom of speech was restricted (paradoxical, but run with it) would we end up like china, no religion, no free press??