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Saturday, 11 October 2014

Truth, respect and social media: The Bianchi case study

[Short link to this article if you need it - http://goo.gl/cGB8FP - or retweet me]

This article contains links that some people may object to - you have the choice whether to click them

At the time of writing this Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi has been taken unconscious to hospital in an ambulance after his Marussia Formula 1 car collided with a yellow crane/digger which was trying to move Adrian Sutil's Sauber out of the way after the both aquaplaned off the track on consecutive laps at the same point.

The initial reaction on twitter was "What's going on?" when the medical car came out of the pits along with the safety car which had come out to slow the race down (it was stopped shortly after). What wasn't visible on the live stream was that it wasn't for Sutil's accident - it wasn't shown that Bianchi had gone off too, although some on screen graphics showed Bianchi's name against the long distance view where only Sutil's car was visible, and there were quite a few views of the Marussia team being shown. The broadcasters had, understandably, decided not to show any footage they had of Bianchi's crash or the medical staff working on him. The statement in full is available on formula1.com.

But what of social media? Awash with frenzy, people were trying to decipher what had happened. There were photos of a helicopter, supposedly carrying Bianchi to hospital, taking off. It turns out that they took him via ambulance instead, as per my introduction. This immediately started a discussion on social media. Why aren't they using the helicopter to transport him? Why hadn't the race directors race stopped the race if the weather wasn't good enough to allow the helicopter to fly? What really happened? The inevitable outrage had begun.

You have to take a step back. The people in charge have been doing this for a long time, and the public have to rely on them to make the right decisions based on the information they have. If the weather suddenly changes (and it did deteriorate on the day which lead to both drivers skidding off) then you can be caught out. It's almost impossible to keep a race going in adverse weather conditions if you throw a red flag at the possibility of the helicopter not being able to take off. We have to trust the judgement of the officials and medics who have FAR more information available to them that we do on the local weather, the transport, and the condition of the patient.

In addition to that there was quite a bit of heated discussion about pictures being posted and reposted on social media. The Telegraph posted a picture of the teams working on his car after the crash and got a lot of flack for it (Reference link with the photo), Parcel company DHL make a post inviting people to "Like" the post to show their support (reference article) and while they weren't asking people to like DHL's page, it is "free publicity" to DHL to get people to engage with their page. Just ultimately not in the way they'd have wanted.

The other controversy was that many people, once the photos started to come out, had started tweeting pictures (such as the Telegraph one) and, ultimately, the video clip of the crash. This caused a lot of people to object and say "Don't post them" (Ex-F1 presenter for the BBC Jake Humphreys was one of them) or "I'm unfollowing anyone who posts them" and similar. I can understand such reactions but you have to remember we're in an age of social media. Sharing things is what happens on social media and you have to accept that. It's a good thing for the world to have no (other than illegal items) restrictions placed on shares. It allows censorship to be bypassed, and I view anyone telling others not to post things is attempting to invoke censorship. There have been documentaries showing fatal crashes on TV in the past and I don't recall any outcry about those being broadcast. The difference is that these things are coming out shortly after the accident when emotions are high and the outcome is still in the balance. I do, however, agree with the broadcasters for not forcing it on people's screens in HiDef detail (the reminds me of the opening scene of Swordfish) while the outcome wasn't certain. The point is, viewing it should be a choice. There was a video posted with a crash of Kevin Ward Jr which killed him earlier this year too (reference article - includes video) and I now at least one person who wasn't keen to watch that but saw the Bianchi one.

When you see a link you have the choice of whether to click it (with images it can be harder since many social media clients will automatically show you them) and I think "responsible tweeting" is about, at the very least, informing people when you're posting something that includes a link that might be hard for followers to look at. That's respect for your audience. I can't help feel that unfollowing/blocking people who share content you object to is a bit like, to use an idiom, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A couple of pieces of objectional content doesn't make their whole feed pointless. On social media you'll never have the same opinions as others, and in fact following people with other views just makes you more accepting of other views and makes it easier not to have tunnel vision on things, or to only see a one-sided view of an issue promoted by the media. I accept it, take it on board, and move on. So I wouldn't unfollow someone just because they'd tweeted something objectionable - even if pictures of an critically injured person were involved - in the same way as I wouldn't unfollow someone just because my opinion was different. Social media allows the people to bypass the press "filtering" and post more or less whatever they like. And that's overall a good thing. A side effect of that is that facts will often come out over social media first.

Do people want to watch Bianchi's video to see someone get hurt? Of course not (well not in most cases I assume) but for Formula 1 fans who've seen all the safety improvements it's a way of understanding where there may be holes in the safety procedures. If the pictures/videos weren't out there, then the FIA would be making decisions behind closed doors, and then the public would judge them for their decisions without knowing the facts of what happened. Putting the videos out there means we can understand what happened, and understand why any subsequent decisions were taken, and potentially open up discussions to other ideas. I believe it's a good thing. Engagement and sharing is what makes social media useful (as long as it's kept to a vague level of facts).

And "facts" is the issue. As I mentioned facts can often come out of social media before any reputable organisation but so do a lot of misrepresented/false information as "facts". The Bianchi crash video says everything you need to know about the accident in a way no 140-character tweet, biased to the posters opinions, could ever do. If you can stick to referenced truths (and the one problem with twitter is the lack of attribution of facts - an issue I blogged about some time ago - I wish people wouldn't share images without the source).

The crash video is hard to watch. I won't shove it in anyone's face by inlining it into this page so it's your choice whether to click the link and open it. Seriously, do not click this if you're easily upset: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d052iSUkSY0.

But please don't unfollow me for wanting to see and understand the truth about what happened to allow me to form my own personal opinions.