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Is it Good to Watch People Die?
In the wake of last week’s mass shooting in New Zealand, Reddit banned two contentious but popular groups that regularly featured human injury and death. The sites were accused of encouraging, promoting or glorifying the Christchurch attacks in violation of their terms of service (TOS), according to Motherboard.
The “watch people die” subreddit is notorious for sharing videos of grisly, gruesome deaths that can be seen over and over again. These videos of beheadings, disembowelments, exploding heads and incinerations, and even attempts at robbery and homicide, are shared by a community of 425,000.
They’re also a source of societal critique, as they highlight the perils of allowing people to die in public places without supervision. It’s a dangerous idea, and one that Watch People Die takes to heart.
Why We Like Watching People Die
r/WatchPeopleDie is a popular subreddit that shares graphic videos and GIFs of deaths, often from the point of view of the person who’s died. There’s no denying that the videos, as Dr Saltz puts it, offer “a really debatable point”: they depict a world where a train passenger’s head gets ripped off by an overhang or a mugging occurs. But is it good for you to see such things?
That question prompted an analysis from Sue Tait, a professor at the University of Canterbury. She identifies four kinds of spectatorship that viewers of body horror videos engage in: “an amoral gaze,” whereby the dead person becomes the object of your attention; a vulnerable gaze, where you’re subjected to the suffering that your viewing of the video brings; an entitled gaze, where you are privileged to frame what you see through anti-censorship discourses; and a responsive gaze, where you’re aware of your own vulnerability as you watch.
While some have criticized the subreddit for its gruesome nature, many users have responded by calling it an important source of education about death and suicide prevention. They argue that the videos teach viewers to appreciate life, rather than simply ignoring it, and to be more careful when it comes to social media. They point out that the videos have also helped some suicide victims recover from their grief, and have helped others learn to be more aware of the dangers that lie around them.