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Atrocities and live streaming – how can we prepare our children?

By Ann-Marie Corvin


It was late into the evening when reports that a lorry had ploughed into a Nice crowd celebrating Bastille Day first started to surface.

Many were alerted to this tragedy via the hum of a smartphone, the whistle of a twitter app or a Facebook alert from friends in Nice, who were able to use a new function on the site that can mark people in tragedy-struck areas as ‘safe’.

At this stage many people would have turned to online news and social media to find out more about the unfolding events – but were they prepared for the images that greeted them?

Early footage of the tragedy from the scene, which largely comprised of user generated footage, was graphic and shocking.

Even traditional news outlets and individual journalists did not shy away from uploading disturbing images of the scene onto their websites and social media feeds, some of which included footage from witnesses and victims of the aftermath: broken, bleeding bodies and shocked survivors.

Some social networks reportedly encouraged people to share their ‘stories’ with Snapchat prompting French users to upload videos of the Nice attacks aftermath to its dedicated live public feed, named ‘Nice: Infos’

The Nice coverage serves as a reminder that improved quality of live streaming technology and the growing popularity of apps such as Periscope, YouNow and Facebook Live are enabling anyone to broadcast events from anywhere – but, as Emily Bell wrote in her Monday Guardian column, none of us seem prepared for it.

While adults find images from attacks difficult enough to process, for children, it can be much harder. Yet when kids have access to mobile technology and 24 hour multiscreen news feeds it can be hard to avoid them being exposed to some disturbing images.

Critical thinking

Perhaps the best thing we can do as parents is to open up a conversation when them about what they are viewing and teach them to be more critical of their news sources.

It’s worth pointing out that while the footage they see on TV is subject to internal and external regulations and that there is a short delay in live broadcasts which allows news crews to cut away from violent images, internet streaming services have no such limitations. Your child needs to be aware that they could just be a click away from some very upsetting images.

Also open up a conversation with your children about dignity and privacy of victims and survivors and their families. On this point it’s worth looking at the codes that trained news journalists are required to abide by.The BBC news editorial guidelines on filming the dead and the dying state the following:

‘There are very few circumstances in which it is justified to broadcast the moment of death.  It is always important to respect the privacy and dignity of the dead. We should never show them gratuitously. We should also avoid the gratuitous use of close-ups of faces and serious injuries of those who are dead, suffering or in distress.’

Encourage your child to question the motivations behind the filming and uploading such footage - why people are filming and also why are they uploading or sharing the footage at all. How has the footage/ news report been tagged?  Be wary of anyone prefacing their reports with sensationalist and attention grabbing posts that read like clickbait: ‘This is what horror looks like…’ (sadly an actual tweet from a journalist reporting on Nice).

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that not all streamed footage of tragic events should be avoided.  ‘Citizen journalism’ – where members of the public upload footage of unfolding news events -  can be a powerful thing and can add new layers to a story - so long as its intent is not to objectify victims and exploit morbid curiosities.