Abstract: Examining the Public Response to an Act of Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Examining the Public Response to an Act of Violence

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Congress, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Megan Lindsay Brown, PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Arizona State University, AZ
Adrienne Baldwin-White, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, GA
Background: Social media's proliferation raises ethical questions for social work practitioners and researchers surrounding new mediated experiences. Recording, archiving, and streaming one's activities are a part of everyday sociality, but the ethical demands of handling the most sensitive content have yet to be resolved. As social workers strive to adapt digital technologies for the greater good, the meaning and materiality of images must be critically examined with acknowledgment of exploitation and appropriation throughout online cultures. As a case study, the authors analyze the story of Jasmine Eiland, a woman who inadvertently live streamed on Facebook her own sexual assault in an Atlanta night club. 

Method: We analyze Jasmine Eiland's original video, its online circulation, user comments on the video, and consider the value of visual analysis for social work research. 

Results: The story of Eiland exemplifies how oppressive and dehumanizing online narratives favor the attention of users over protection of individual privacy, reinforcing pre-existing racist cultural practices. As the video from Jasmine’s incident became viral content on Twitter, in real time, the debate about consent, body autonomy, and victim worthiness was a public conversation. Her story was critiqued and questioned despite the live-stream video showing her body as incapacitated and the recordings capturing her verbal protest saying “no” to her attacker repeatedly. Revictimization and victim blaming is not a new experience caused by technology. Survivors historically have been concerned that their experience will simply be dismissed. Black women are more likely to be blamed for their own victimization. Black women are hypersexualized and therefore seen as complicit in their own sexual assault. In addition, Black women, who are more likely to be victimized by other Black men, struggle with whether to report the violence and subject the men of their community to the prejudice of the criminal justice system.  The streaming video was intended to be a cry for help and instead was co-opted as a joke and point of intellectual discussion. The misuse of the video demonstrates how online narratives regarding sexual victimization must also pay close attention viral content on social media platforms in other cases, as well.  Because social media is a public space, it is imperative that social work considers the role of platforms in making sure women, especially women of color, maintain ownership of their stories and have autonomy of their mediated bodies. 

Conclusion: Sexual victimization of Black women has become viral content on social media platforms in other cases, showing this was not an isolated incident. This paper strives to move social work research toward an understanding and ethical stance that uses visual analysis to support dignity and agency for the bodies attached to public images.