There is an awful story on BBC News about an asylum seeker who fell to his death from a balcony while people below were taunting him to jump. Now of course there could be various behind the scenes stories here – he had been smoking cannabis, maybe they knew him and they had specific issues with each other, but broadly speaking, how appalling is it that people were there encouraging a suicidal man to jump to his death. I wonder how they felt as he fell and died in front of them?
I’d love to know what they were thinking, did they realise it was real life and not some TV show or drama, that it was happening for real, right in front of them and not as part of the 24-hour rolling news?
The fact is we’ve all felt that thrill when something happens in the news – you immediately want to find out more, see more, read more, hear more and of course news services provide that obligingly.It’s not that you’re glad something has happened, in fact often you share a sense of horror about it, but there is an instinctive and guttural reaction, perhaps relating to seeing danger while being perfectly safe in your own home. Sometimes we all have to take a step back and remember this is happening in the world outside and real people are involved.
The immediacy of 24-hour news combined with social networking means that it can be harder to do that than it possibly used to be. Something awful happens, we can all turn on the news then comment on the news via Twitter and Facebook. The agenda itself is then partially shaped by people’s reaction to it via social networks. Sometimes this can have great results, such as the clean up operations after the London riots or the boycott of particular products if they’re discovered doing something wrong, but the flipside can also be present, such as the vilification of someone accused of a crime before they’ve been tried in court or the total social destruction of a celebrity who has done something wrong.
Thankfully when something happens in our more immediate reality, to ourselves, our friends and family, our community, that thrill of the dramatic is generally over-ridden by more humane concerns (though there is always the ‘watching a car crash syndrome’), but I wonder if the people who taunted him to jump realised the despicable nature of their actions or if they just felt it was all a laugh and exciting and really had nothing much to do with them anyway.