A crime, a jury, a trial and Facebook

Imagine that you are sitting at the back of a courtroom of a
horrific murder trial. The judge turns to the jury for its verdict. The lead
juror stands up, clears his throat, and speaks.

“To be honest, Sir,” he says, “we can’t bear looking at
these dreadful photographs of the murder. We don’t want to comment on the
murder, though it is clear the victim is now dead as a result of the
accused’s actions. Just take the evidence away, so we don’t have to think about
it.”

Would never happen, right?

Well, maybe not in a courtroom, but it did happen to me
recently on Facebook. The jury was my Facebook friends at the university where
I study. Let me explain. As you all are no doubt aware, Facebook is an online
communication site with 400 million members. Members have walls where they
communicate, post pictures and comments.

I posted a picture of a 22-week-old foetus on my Facebook wall.
The picture bore the caption “22 week old aborted baby”.

My intention was to create awareness about a legal medical
procedure. I wanted to show people the outcome of a successful abortion, a
procedure which is widely accessible in Australia today and accepted as normal.
My point was this: if one supports the procedure, one ought to be able view and
approve it.

But this was not the case. The outrage of my Facebook jurors
was not horror at the killing of a fellow human, but indignation that I had
shoved evidence in their faces. A heated debate ensued which attracted over 200
comments. I received slander and hate mail on my own Facebook wall, on the
walls of my Facebook friends, and through Facebook chat. A Facebook group was even
created calling for me to take the photo down. People lamented that freedom of
speech was available for people like me. Others deleted me from their Facebook friends.

Due to the many comments underneath the photo, it became a
highlight of the news feed on Facebook and therefore the photo remained
constantly on people’s home pages. It also appeared on the homepages of people
whom I was not friends with. The picture was also reported to the Facebook
administrators many times. Interestingly it was never removed.

Most of the comments expressed disgust at the photo of
the murdered baby. But strangely very few actually condemned the act of
abortion. Rather they attacked the suitability of Facebook as a forum for abortion
photographs. Circumventing the argument most of them absolved themselves from
the issue and requested censorship:

“I’m not taking part in this debate BUT.... I believe this
photo is inappropriate for Facebook and you are being judgmental and hurting
people’s feelings.”

Granted, the picture was gruesome. But it was not as horrible
as scenes in the latest Quentin Tarantino film or indeed an episode of Crime Scene Investigation. And it was a
legally obtained, anonymous photograph of a routine operation. Animal
protestors regularly post images of dead dolphins and whales on Facebook and
are supported for raising awareness of an unacceptable practise. If one
supports the cause, then why not applaud a successful outcome? If abortion is
legally and for many, morally, acceptable, why must we censor images of it? Perhaps
this happens because supporters assume that a foetus is not human. Unfortunately
they see the ugly side when they are confronted with a photo of a dead baby.
And discussions based on human rights for women seem contradictory. Many of my
friends unwittingly rebutted their own arguments: first they argued
that abortion is a woman's choice and then they rebuked me over
the disturbing picture!

This is not the first time that humans have been denied
their own humanity. Slaves, black people, indigenous people, women, Jews, and other
minorities have been excluded from the legal definition of “person” throughout
the history of mankind. In 1906 a small Congolese man was put on show in
the monkey cages at the New York Zoo! The unborn child is today's excluded
minority.

The overwhelming majority of my Facebook jurors wanted the
truth to be censored. When faced with undeniable evidence of the murder of a
baby, they wanted the evidence to be removed.

It was a very educational experience. Facebook was the ultimate
interactive newspaper that popped up on everyone’s computer screens for two
weeks. Through hundreds of positive and negative retorts and the persistent on-going
questions and queries that I currently face, the outcome was positive. I
induced my peers to discuss, debate, and re-examine their opinions on the real
value of human life. I've heard plenty of complaints about Facebook, but it has
an amazing potential to teach and persuade.

Sujata Saha is a fifth
year law and business student at the University of Tasmania. She is also an
officer cadet in the Australian Army Reserves and the General Representative on
the Tasmanian University Union. Thanks to Priyanka Saha for her ideas and
editing.

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