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Life & Death, Live and Direct

8:46PM. Westside, Chicago, IL. June 2016. Anthony Perkins, 28, is hanging out with friends in front of a home in the Lawndale neighborhood. As he records himself and others on Facebook Live, you can hear a small child playing in the background. Moments later, Perkins yells “Boy stop playing” to someone he recognizes walking towards him. Several shots ring out and Perkins lay dead. His phone, resting in bloody grass, streamed the entire incident on Facebook Live.

9:05PM. Falcon Heights, MN. July 2016. Diamond Reynolds records on Facebook Live as her boyfriend, an elementary school cafeteria supervisor, lays bleeding to death next to her. Philando Castille is later pronounced dead as a result of a gunshot wound after a traffic stop by St. Paul police.

3:00AM. Miami Gardens, FL. January 2017. Police officers enter a home after being contacted by teenagers concerned about their friend’s well-being. They initially arrive at the wrong address, yet soon thereafter reach the correct home. Upon entering the foster home of Naika Venant, police and her foster parents found Naika hanging from a shower glass door frame. She posted a 2-hour video on Facebook Live as she meticulously created a noose out of a scarf before committing suicide. Her foster mother initially claimed that she was sleep and unaware; however authorities discover that the foster mother allegedly watched and coaxed Naika during the entire livestream.

As we continue to blur the lines between social media and real life, the impact of viewing death like never before has untold effects on our psyche. The question comes to mind – what motivates someone to want to hurt themselves or others live on social media?

*Keiana Herndon died on December 28, 2016 while streaming live on Facebook from a friend's home in Arkansas

From a psychological perspective, the answer is quite simple – going live boosts our level of self-esteem by generating instant gratification with likes and comments. There is a biological component as well. While most of our decisions are made in the rational, pre-frontal cortex area of the brain, instant gratification causes a more urgent, dependent response within deeper primitive parts of the brain that are triggered by environmental cues. In short – the instant gratification that we receive from likes and comments on live broadcasts tap into our most primitive, pleasure-seeking needs.

With this understanding, it becomes more clear as to why certain types of people would engage in extreme (or even deadly) behaviors online. It has become desirous because it:

  • Garners immediate attention

  • Emboldens ideology

  • Creates a sense of pseudo-confidence

  • Provides an audience that otherwise would not be present

Homicides and suicides that occur online also have a long-lasting effect on those that view them. Similar to hearing daily news stories related to violent crime, viewing death at the click of a button will eventually desensitize us on a subconscious level. It will become a form of entertainment, with viewers encouraging the participants to follow-thru with deadly acts.

Slightly more than a month ago, a 37 year-old Cleveland man reportedly posted a video on Facebook showing him allegedly shooting an elderly man as he walked down the street. After posting the video, it was reportedly shared more than 1.6 million times within hours across Twitter, IG, and FB. The shooter noted that his reasoning for wanting to kill was due to issues with his girlfriend. He wanted to get her attention. Several days later, Steve Stephens lay dead in his car in Erie, PA from a self-inflicted gunshot. The entire nation held their collective breath as the drama unfolded, and Stephens got exactly what he wanted – attention on a grand scale.