A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with my housemates and we started talking about the internet. Before long, one of my housemates said: “I found this website the other day in a Reddit thread, I think it was Documenting Reality or something.” The next 10 minutes of my life were minutes that I will never forget.
At the end of that short period of time, I had watched a rebel fighter in Syria get shot; an artillery round hit a wall and kill another soldier in graphic detail; and a woman get beheaded. They were three of the most disturbing and stomach-churning videos that I am sure I will ever watch.
Little did I know – because my friend failed to mention it – that the site has the tagline “Your Source for Death Pictures and Death Videos”. That information would have been good to know beforehand, just as a warning.
Clicking through, to see how far this site actually goes, turned up some worrying results.
On one page, videos portray “Zeta’s Hacking Golfo Women” and “Syria: Rebels Vaporized by MiG airstrike”; others were too gruesome to warrant mention. Needless to say, the experience was one of the worst I have had and not one that I wish to ever have to repeat.
Fortunately, after somewhere between five and ten page views, the site prevents you from being able to view any more content – but there are a couple of exceptions.
Documenting Reality is a “private, invite-only community” according to the screen that prevents further viewing. You can only access more content if you know someone who is already a member, or you sign yourself up on one of the days membership is open for anyone to join. In both of those cases, you have to pay.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that the videos and images were published in the first place, they actually make you pay for the content if you wish to view regularly and comment in the threads.
I was still in a state of shock over what I had seen when something strange happened. An advert for the Royal Marines played during a break in the programme we had been watching on TV. It showed a marine, moving through a river or swamp seemingly alone. He encounters what is understood to be an enemy who cocks his rifle and aims at the soldier but does not fire. The marine and his enemy stare at each other, apparently waiting for the other to act, when out of nowhere several other camouflaged marines appear and outnumber their enemy.
The advert made me think. It made me reconsider Documenting Reality and some of the content that it publishes. I place emphasis on the word some for good reason; it would be unimaginable to think that a video titled “Zeta’s Hacking Golfo Women” is acceptable and should be published on the internet, or in fact anywhere.
Is there not something that we can learn from Documenting Reality? For military organisations, I think there is. Take the Royal Marines advert for example. If the situation depicted in the advert occurred in real life, that marine would most likely have been killed, or at the very least severely wounded. Why is there no hint of that? The answer is simple.
Military organisations will only ever paint a positive picture on the work they do because they want to be seen to be doing the right thing. They want to be seen to be helping people, helping each other and working together. While that is one side of what military organisations, like the marines do, it is not the whole picture and people need to open their eyes to the possibility of what could happen to them.
The experience was one of the worst I have had and not one that I wish to ever have to repeat.
The British Army is all too keen to have people leave school and join the ranks, promising “at least £17,767 a year depending on which Army job you do”. To anyone leaving school aged 16 or 17, the prospect of earning almost £18,000 is attention grabbing and a real consideration. Soldiers are also eligible to benefits, including mental health support and help to integrate back into society when leaving the armed forces. There is little or no mention of the fact that, ultimately, these people are putting their lives on the line to do their job.
Welcome to the real world
Should it not be made clearer to soldiers when they join that, regardless of how well you train and how well you know your equipment, you will always be at risk of sacrificing your life while on duty? I think this point is something that is often overlooked by some naïve people that join the military. They’ve spent their teenage years playing war games on consoles and enjoyed themselves. That experience does not translate to the real world. You will not respawn, the reality is far worse.
It’s a difficult question. Without doubt the risks of their job should be made explicitly clear, whether it’s necessary to show graphic video of what could happen is a very different, and much more complicated, case.
Moving on from the military, is there not a humanitarian side to Documenting Reality? In the developed world we are almost, if not actually, desensitised to images of the starving and those who have to walk miles to fetch water every day because we see the adverts for charity organisations in the mainstream media every day. That is not to say that the work charities do to battle those issues isn’t important, simply that people have seen the advertising campaigns and have become apathetic to their causes.
Clearly there is a difference between an advert featuring starving children and watching people getting beheaded, but is enough being done to document the experience of people in countries such as Columbia and Peru where the drug trade and cartels operate with relative freedom, acting as they wish? Where is their reality being documented in the media? It’s almost as if their case is being swept under the carpet.
There is no doubt that if I had not seen the Royal Marines advert so soon after watching those videos on Documenting Reality, I would not have even begun to think about making a link between the two. I wouldn’t have had to contemplate the acceptability of Documenting Reality and I could have had a pleasant and normal evening in ignorant bliss.