September 19, 2017

The Ethics of Capturing Video of Tragedies

Capturing Video of Tragedy

At Practical Ethics, Hannah Maslen offers an interesting consideration of the ethics of using smartphones to capture video of tragedies, such as the Aurora movie theater incident a few weeks ago, and as has happened in numerous other tragedies over the last few years. Asks Maslen, “Is it ok to video horror as it unfolds? Might there even be good reasons to do so?”

In ethics, a solid first step in determining if an action is the right thing to do is to decide whether there is any harm or benefit arising from it. For example, one might decide there is harm done because the video footage could become an oppressive reminder to those who endured the tragedy. Or it could be exploitative of another person during a moment of personal crisis. On the other hand, one could reason that capturing the footage is a benefit to the public by virtue of its relative accuracy in information dissemination. Likewise, when we capture things on video, it offers an unreconstructed version for others to see, making the information more accurate than a description.

Another dimension to Maslen’s question might be this: given the ubiquity of these devices, even if this action is exploitative or otherwise harmful–enough to say that it outweighs any benefit–how could we stop this from happening?


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