In anticipation of an Iraqi and Kurdish military operation to reoccupy Mosul (which is currently controlled by ISIS), two news outlets began streaming the confrontation live on Facebook for anyone to view. Starting early Monday morning, UK-based Channel 4 News and Al-Jazeera live streamed the battle as captured by Kurdish media organization, Rudaw. United States forces are on the ground and plan to back Iraq’s push to reclaim the city with airstrikes, Mashable reports, although the UN has repeatedly warned military leaders of the deadly consequences an operation of this magnitude could have on civilians.
This is a first for digital war coverage and many are questioning whether it’s a good idea or an alarming indicator of our cultural desensitization to violence. Outpacing the bizarre sensation of watching a war unfold in real time is the ability to like, comment on the event, or react with an emoticon like any other benign Facebook post. Some users have voiced their concern for the spectacle of live streaming war on social media while many others have expressed being deeply unsettled by it.
Unsurprisingly, there is ample evidence to suggest watching acts of war can be detrimental to the mental health of civilians. Since the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, American culture has been imbued with wartime fear thanks to startling headlines and the Bush administration’s heavily used battle metaphors-i.e. the “war on terror” and “global war on terrorism.” As Scientific American points out, terms like these simplify complex problems and instill a sense of fear that can be paralyzing and even damaging. It’s hard to imagine how watching a war broadcasted live can instill the kind of empathy and depth of understanding required to eliminate prejudice-fueled terrorism.
Even while far from the front lines, experiencing war can have long-term effects for those exposed. A study written by coauthors R. Srinivasa Murthy and Rashmi Lakshminarayana and published in the journal World Psychiatry stressed the importance of prioritizing mental health care in times of war, stating, “There is no doubt that the populations in war and conflict situations should receive mental health care as part of the total relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction processes.” According to the study, women are more vulnerable to wartime’s psychological consequences than men; however, across the board an increased exposure to trauma directly correlates with an increased level of psychiatric problems.
As we wade deeper into an era of conflict, it’ll be up to us to decide how we’ll strike a balance between staying informed, staying sane, and avoiding the exploitation of our world’s most vulnerable populations.