Social media can be extremely weird sometimes. It gives rise to unwitting or unlikely celebrity. It aids in promoting false narrative clickbait. It’s added the winky face emoji to your great aunt’s digital lexicon.
But some of the peculiarities of Facebook and Twitter go beyond merely eye roll-inducing, and wander into territory that is truly troubling. As a multi-factional coalition begins a long-awaited assault on the ISIS-held city of Mosul, Iraq, several news outlets have begun to livestream the battle on Facebook and Youtube.
I’ve championed the value of live streaming in the past, especially in regard to citizen reporting, but this appears oddly morbid. The thought that I can click a link and watch, in real time, a major military operation from the ground—and throw it a thumbs up!—feels darkly Bradbury-ian. Like futuristic shock journalism. This isn’t a local resident documenting a protest outside his front door; this is warfare, with all of the death and destruction that accompanies it.
I’m all for transparency, but this is too much.
Many of us vividly recall the opening salvo of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq—Shock and Awe. ‘Round-the-clock broadcasts of aerial ordnance pummeling the buildings in Baghdad. That offensive officially marshaled in a new era of war in the Middle East, and a new way in which it is covered. While those images are cemented in many of our minds, they never felt exploitative or overkill. This was a pivotal moment in American history and was being covered accordingly.
Livestreaming the attack on Mosul feels like Facebook fodder for the sake of Facebook fodder. It doesn’t adequately convey the immense importance of liberating Iraq’s second-largest city, besieged by terrorists for over two years; and to a point, diminishes it. This offensive could prove a crucial turning point in the fight to uproot ISIS from its major strongholds across Iraq and Syria. There are real people involved. Real children and families involved. Emojis floating their way across war footage, sent by people from the safety of their homes, feels more like an exercise in voyeurism than journalism.