Agony at a Distance: Investigating Digital Witnessing on YouTube

Sumiala, Johanna

In this chapter, I analyze the media ethics of digital witnessing by elaborating the theoretical work on media witnessing carried out by media scholars such as John Durham Peters, John Ellis, Paul Frosh, Amit Pinchevski and Lilie Chouliaraki. I focus on digital witnessing on YouTube and analyze in detail one particular YouTube video clip. This video clip entitled “For our son” was made by the father of a Finnish school shooter and was posted on YouTube in 2008. The empirical analysis of digital witnessing is based on the thematic close reading of the media material and is structured around the three key elements in media witnessing: (i) ordinary people as witnessing agents on YouTube, (ii) YouTube videos as a representation of witnessing and (iii) viewers as bearing witness. In conclusion, I discuss the ideas of responsibility as agony and the sense of proper distance as necessary conditions for the communicative action of bearing digital witness.