British Columbia

Caught on video: How viral incidents can cause more harm than good

A spate of recent incidents caught on video and shared on social media have brought up the question of whether these kinds of videos should be circulating online in the first place. 

Two experts say a culture of shaming can prevent real change from happening

A still from a video posted to Facebook shows a man spitting on a bus driver in Burnaby, B.C., on Oct. 29, 2019. (Neczarvee Jane Guidoriagao/Facebook)

A spate of recent incidents caught on video and shared on social media have raised questions of whether these type of videos should be circulating online in the first place. 

Two recent videos include a passenger spitting on a bus driver and a woman launching into a racist tirade against three Asian employees in a Shoppers Drug Mart yelling at them to "speak English." Both incidents occurred in Burnaby, B.C.

They follow many others, including a racist video that led to the suspension of several students at St. George's private school in Vancouver, and a woman's racist rant against a family at a Richmond, B.C., parking lot. 

In September, a man was arrested after a racist, sexist rant on a Metro Vancouver bus. The video of that incident was recorded by a bystander

A prominent federal election story was the widespread appreciation of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh's measured response to a man in Montreal who urged him to cut his turban off to "look more Canadian."

A culture of shaming

But the virality of these videos — and associated shaming — might not promote a more understanding response, says Rima Wilkes, a professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia.

"I'm really concerned about call-out culture and shaming," Wilkes said on CBC's BC Today. 

"We are currently in a moment where we shame people for racism ... And I feel like it's a way for other people to just go, 'I'm not [that] bad, right.'"

Wilkes says it both removes the incentive for people to try and be accountable for their own potentially racist actions, and also makes racism seem like such a huge social problem that there's no hope in surmounting that challenge.  

Ninu Kang, the manager of marketing and communications at MOSAIC (Multi-lingual Orientation Service Association for Immigrant Communities), says there's no question events like this happen in the community and that racialized Canadians are most often the victim. 

However, Kang says highlighting these incidents can desensitize the audience. 

"When we see these videos you know every week, or once a month, or something and then we have this conversation on the phone, what happens is I feel like we're also kind of poisoning the environment as well," she said. 

She says incidents that show cooperation or even slightly more complex social interactions don't go as viral. 

Wilkes agrees.

"That rage and shaming  — it's a sexier subject like it's sexier to point out these incidents in terms of attention than the kinds of things that Nina is talking about like people working together in harmony," Wilkes said.

Other ways to respond

Kang says there are other ways to respond to an alarming incident apart from filming and posting the video on social media. 

She suggests making eye contact with the person who is being attacked, and maybe distract the person and talk to them to calm them down. 

"You don't need to be a superhero," she said. "You don't need to go into that incident if you see something and sort of save the situation.

"Make sure you assess safety and make sure that you see that you're not going to cause further harm or escalate the situation."

With files from BC Today