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Live Video of WDBJ7 Shootings Sparks Debate About Autoplay

A live video of the fatal shootings of a WBDJ7 news team in Virginia on Wednesday which spread rapidly across social networks has sparked a debate about the autoplay feature on Twitter and Facebook. In the shocking video, reporter Alison Parker is seen interviewing Vicki Gardner about an upcoming celebration for the 50th anniversary of Smith Mountain Lake’s creation when the sound of gunshots can suddenly be heard. The camera drops to the ground and the shooter is briefly seen pointing his weapon.

Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, died from their injuries. Gardner, 62, is recovering in hospital after undergoing surgery.

Later, a POV video of the shootings filmed by the gunman was posted on Twitter and retweeted more than 800 times before the account was blocked. It was shared more than 380 times on Facebook. In the video, Vester Flanagan is seen pointing a handgun at Parker before opening fire.

Some major media outlets linked or embedded the original video, but others posted it straight to Facebook and Twitter. Because of their autoplay feature, many people have seen the video without looking for it, sparking a debate about automatic exposure to violence on social media. One person asked CBSN to take down the video of the shootings from their Twitter feed, while another compared the issue to the widespread exposure of a video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley in 2014.

Social media sites like Facebook have introduced autoplay as a way of making videos a smoother experience and increasing ad revenues, but its removal of choice makes graphic videos harder to avoid. A similar controversy surrounded a video of the fatal shooting of a homeless man by Los Angeles police in March. 

Some people have questioned whether the video of Wednesday's shootings should be shown at all, saying that it’s an exploitative, non-essential form of reporting which trivialises death.

The video has now been mostly scrubbed from the Internet – if you want to see it, you’re going to have to look for it. But some feel that this has gone too far toward censoring the horror of gun violence, overprotecting the public from a very real problem.

Aaron Waterhouse

Aaron is a recent English graduate from Durham University who is now working as a content writer intern. An enthusiastic traveller, he hopes to become a journalist and report from around the world. Follow him @AaronAtSMF.

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Live Video of WDBJ7 Shootings Sparks Debate About Autoplay Reviewed by Unknown on Friday, August 28, 2015 Rating: 5

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