Videos on social media have helped publicize and rally public protest surrounding police custody deaths in the past years, particularly last week with the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Despite their social and political importance, research suggests that choosing to watch these videos may need to be an individual decision modulated by the potential for increased trauma.
The Huffington Post's article includes both research on remote exposure to trauma and individual interviews with people affected in traumatic ways by watching these events. That the events occur is of course in itself traumatic, but that trauma can be increased by visual contact with the events through media, especially for those who share race or another identity with the person(s) being harmed in a video. Monica Williams, Director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities, says that part of it is that "when you see other people like you who are being victimized, it makes you feel that the world’s not a safe place for people like you."
On the other hand, as the Huffington Post writes, "For people who have had negative encounters with law enforcement that were not caught on camera, these videos can serve as a touchstone ― an affirmation that they weren’t exaggerating or making things up." And it is also important to value, as activist DeRay Mckesson does, that "Video has, and continues to serve, as an important check on police behavior given the lack of laws, policies, and practices that hold police accountable."
So, the decision to watch or not watch a video containing traumatic events must be informed by each individual's need for knowledge balanced by their tolerance for the emotions provoked by what they see. The Huffington Post directs its readers' attention to the "body's response" and physiological reactions to videos as a good way to know when to watch or not. Phillip Atiba Goff, psychologist and President of the Center for Policing Equity, concludes the Post's article with this advice: "If you see that your blood pressure is going up and your heart is racing, that’s a good time to stop watching."