Eye-witness videos of a terrorist attack – stop and think before you share!

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At 20.00 on Monday, 2 November 2020, a terrorist attack took place in Vienna, Austria.[1] Four civilians and the attacker were killed, more than 20 people including a police officer were injured. Like with any other terrorist attack in the past years, the event was accompanied by a plethora of speculations, rumours, misinformation as well as real eye-witness videos posted on social media, especially during and in the immediate aftermaths of the attack. Social media play an increasing role in such events; while sharing information and videos can unite people in a shared feeling of experience throughout such events, the distribution of this kind of information is problematic for several reasons.

First and foremost, sharing videos of attacks gives terrorists a stage assisting them to fulfil their goals: terrorists need publicity to scare people and destabilise societies. Surely, it is important to provide information about such events, to warn the population of the attack. However, it is also crucial to avoid giving terrorists the chance to divide societies, to create the hatred they intend to create. Furthermore, eye-witness videos may cause psychological distress and reach audiences such as minors and youths. In addition, it may jeopardise the police investigation and put police officers at risk. During the attack in Vienna, police repeatedly asked to submit videos to a dedicated (closed) channel and avoid sharing any rumours and videos on social media. However, rumours did spread indeed, misinforming the population about kidnappings, other cities being attacked, the number of victims and attackers, the reasons and motivations behind the attack, and… the list goes on.

Cases like this prove the importance of following information hygiene guidelines. Specifically, the recommendation to ‘stop and think before you share’ goes beyond sharing misinformation. It targets the responsibility each and every member of a society. Especially during breaking events, it is crucial to be careful what information to share: mainstream media may be misinformed, and anonymous or other, non-trustworthy sources may deliberately or by accident share rumours. Even in the case of factual information, it still might be better to refrain from sharing disturbing videos – due to the abovementioned reasons. This does not mean we should stop talking about such events, and it certainly does not mean any kind of censorship. But it means to think about the consequences of what we say and share on media with such a broad audience.

As such, social media users need to be trained to stop and think about the consequences and implications of a post before they share it, or refrain from sharing: when in doubt, don’t share. EUNOMIA provides a set of tools that support this process, providing indicators and information on the provenance of information.


[1] see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/03/vienna-shooting-what-we-know-so-far-about-the-attack

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