When the Chinese student Lin Jun was murdered in May 2012, in Canada, the killer chose to record the mutilation and dismemberment of the body, and later posted it online with the title 1 Lunatic, 1 Icepick. Luka Magnotta, a failed porn actor, was arrested and charged with murder after he was identified in the video.
When a terrorist massacred 51 worshippers at two New Zealand mosques in March, the killer filmed the beginning of the attack and broadcast it live on Facebook. He was arrested, but the footage lived on; moderators at Facebook scrambled to remove the 1.5 million copies of the video posted the day after the attacks. On YouTube, too, uploaders deliberately edited new versions that tried to outsmart the site’s moderation algorithm, while Reddit banned a subreddit called r/watchpeopledie for hosting it.
One website that originally posted 1 Lunatic, 1 Icepick — and continues to host the Christchurch shooting video — is BestGore.com, which publishes countless images and videos of extreme violence and graphic content, including cartel beheadings, abortions, and ISIS executions. The so-called shock site was started in April 2008 by former local government worker Mark Marek of Edmonton, Alberta, and has published more than 12,000 posts, most featuring graphically violent photos and videos. Marek has claimed he doesn’t trust Google and so removed the analytics tool that tracked visitor numbers, but in 2011 the site claimed one million unique users per month.
Marek argues that BestGore serves a public good by preserving accurate documentation of the real violence that happens in the world. “By not seeing things for yourself, you are opening the door to being lied to and persuaded in one direction or the other,” he writes on the site’s landing page. “No matter how brutal, hard, sad, offensive, immoral, obscene or [fill in the blank] something is to look at, only by seeing it with your own eyes can you make up your own opinion on the matter and see truth.”
What motivates users to watch and share graphically violent videos of death? Many people might feel it would be disrespectful to…