The practice of bystanders recording video of violent events has always been fraught with ethical issues, including whether the bystanders should have intervened. In the social-media age, these questions also include the intentions of individuals recording and sharing videos online.
On that note, a new law under consideration in California would make it a criminal offense to record a violent felony in order to share it on social media, especially when the person recording the video is a direct participant, “aider or abettor” in the felony. That means they don’t necessarily have to take part in a physical assault themselves — knowing the plans of the attacker and recording the event are sufficient to violate the law, implicating them in a felony.
The law would add an extra year in prison to the felony charges for assault for anyone making such a video, plus another year for the actual assailant, if they both engaged in a conspiracy to make the video.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, the law was inspired by the case of Jordan Peisner, a 14-year-old from Southern California who was the victim of a random assault by another teen, recorded and posted online in a (successful) attempt by the attacker to gain social-media notoriety.
Peisner received life-threatening injuries in the attack, according to local news media, but the teenage girl who recorded the video was not charged.
Dababneh told Sacramento CBS 13: “We need to make sure that our laws catch up with technology, and that we send a clear message that if you commit these crimes you’re gonna be charged, but also if you tape these crimes and provide a motivating factor for the attackers, you’ll also be charged.”
Dababneh emphasized the law is not intended to discourage people from recording violent incidents if they happen to be eyewitnesses. Such videos are often an important resource for police and prosecutors.
Clearly, however, people who record such videos should not post them online.While proving intent and foreknowledge are perennial challenges for prosecutors, it’s worth noting that in many cases, people recording fight videos offer evidence of both, through commentary recorded on the video. Hoisted on their own petard, as it were.