Has The Internet Irreversibly Desensitised Society?
Popular vlogger Logan Paul made global headlines this month when he uploaded a video of himself standing close to a dead body in Japan’s infamous Aokigahara forest (the so-called ‘suicide forest’). The video caused an outcry among the online community, and resulted in video streaming giant YouTube cutting ties with Paul, despite his channel attracting some 15.5 million subscribers.
The question of whether or not the video was appropriate seems to have been resoundingly answered by both YouTube and the vlogger himself, but it raises a bigger one: namely, has the internet made us desensitised to this sort of thing?
While there was certainly a backlash to the video, it still attracted over 20 million views world-wide, and over 600,000 ‘likes’ from viewers who clearly found nothing untoward about the experience. Which is the true indicator of society’s moral compass?
It is a Catch-22 situation. On the one hand, the internet has the potential to bring people closer together, to allow them to share experience and information from across the globe. People make lasting friendships that span continents, and romance has been shown to blossom from the other side of the world. In light of national and international disasters the outpouring of support, both emotional and financial, can truly reaffirm ones faith in the human race.
Then there is the other side of the coin, the dark side of the internet, as it were. In many ways, it cannot help but desensitise us. Whether we use a laptop, a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone, we are always one remove from events we are witnessing and that gives us a sense of detachment. One need only enter a discussion forum, or a Facebook group, or the comments section on… well… just about any website on the Net to see what that detachment brings out of people. Even the most innocuous comment can result in a raging wall of invective from people on both sides of the divide and it doesn’t take long for it to devolve into name-calling, insults, abuse, and death threats.
That sense of detachment extends to visual media. The Paul video was not the first objectionable content freely available online. We’ve seen the execution of Saddam Hussein, rants from people who went on to commit atrocities like the 2011 Arizona shooting, live vivisections, crime scene footage, and the immediate aftermath of any number of accidents and disasters, and they all rack up the views online.
As to whether it has truly desensitised us as a society, the fact that we can still find it within us to be outraged at such things, must surely be cause for hope.