Sunday, May 16, 2021 | Shawwal 3, 1442 H
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The tragedy of citizen journalism!


Rasha al Raisi - 30th of December 2017 is one of the days that Omanis would remember as being tragic. The stabbing that happened in Muscat City Centre mall might not be the first of it’s kind, but the way it was covered on WhatsApp was truly surprising — or at least to me.

At around one in that afternoon, mom came to my room with her smartphone in hand, saying that there had been a shooting in the city centre. My first reaction was denial of course. I told her that these things don’t happen here and that she shouldn’t believe whatever she gets through the WhatsApp. She played a video where all you could see was absolute mayhem. People running in one direction, a sound of something popping (as if something hitting the ground) and cries in Hindi: “Catch him! Catch him!”.

I assured mom that it must be a thief who’d stole something from a shop, and us being a chivalrous nation were just trying to help out in catching him. Photos of the young guard lying on the ground bleeding came up. Random pictures followed of passers-by (someone actually posing with a pram!) and unrelated views taken from different shops. And then came a posting that the location is Qurum City Centre and not Muscat. At that point, mom and I were anxious and exchanging worried looks. Then came re-tweets from the Royal Oman Police confirming the incident that left the young guard dead. And everything went silent for few seconds, before the bombardment of continuous messages from mom’s different contacts.

Speculations of the nationality? Motives? An eye witness posting 2 voice messages describing the incident in details (and giving the stabber a profane nickname that I rarely heard anybody use but my grandpa). And then another amount of pictures: a personal photo of the guard with his name, a photo of the stabber, photos of someone on a stretcher, a video with someone sitting on the floor in front of one of the shops (wearing a cap that’s hiding his face holding something in his hand) while someone commenting in a Levantine accent that it must be a knife as it’s dripping with blood (note that the background is really quiet and the man is much younger and thinner than what was initially posted as the stabber’s picture). And then dead silence.

Let’s take a step back from the shocking situation and view it from a different perspective: the rise of the citizen journalists that started a few years back. They’re anyone with a smartphone who’d document whatever is happening in front of them (sometimes with comments where the obvious is re-stated), before sharing it with the masses. Some wouldn’t mind risking their own lives and that of others for the sake of doing a good job (a few weeks back, a young Chinese man fell from the 60th something floor while taking a selfie of himself).

It’s fascinating to watch how technology had not only changed our brain neuron’s connection, but also killed our natural instinct of fight or flight. Instead, it gave rise to a newer instinct that I would call: snap and send. Instead of running away or fighting to stay alive, we don’t mind being in danger zones for the sake of posting something new. Information is the new drug of the 21st century. Our gadgets are not giving us enough space or time to reflect and contemplate about the contents we’re getting. We just keep passing it on, as it was passed to us. It’s time to re-evaluate our excess dependency on technology before it’s too late.

Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of:

The World According to Bahja.

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