Lara Prendergast

A phone used to be a helpline. Now it’s a device used to film people in distress

A phone used to be a helpline. Now it's a device used to film people in distress
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A pal recently told me a story. It was about a friend of theirs who had been travelling on a train last summer, one of those old fashioned trains, with the windows that let you open the door from the outside. He was leaning on the door with his arm resting outside when another train suddenly passed by and clipped his hand. His wrist snapped. There was blood everywhere. He turned back into the carriage and was relieved to see his fellow travellers reaching for their phones. He assumed they were dialling for help. But he quickly realised he was wrong. They were in fact taking photos.

I was reminded of this somewhat grim story today, after I read about a man from Telford who had committed suicide on Saturday. The suicidal man had been perched on top of a multi-storey car park and beneath him, a group of onlookers goaded him to ‘jump and get on with it’. Members of the crowd took selfies and filmed the drama on their phones. The man jumped, and the onlookers, presumably, got the shot they were after.

Freddy Gray wrote about a similar phenomenon during the Sydney hostage situation, after people started taking selfies in order to, as he put it, ‘shove themselves into the drama’. This latest selfie story takes it one step further. Those on the ground wanted to direct the drama. They wanted the man to kill himself because they wanted to film him doing so. They knew it would capture attention online. They actively decided to use the technology in their pocket as a camera, rather than for anything more compassionate. I’d like to think this was an aberration, that most ordinary people wouldn’t do the same. But then I think about my friend’s story and start to fear they might, for the sake of a few retweets and a couple of 'likes'.