Seeing All Evil: The Global Cruelty of Digital Visibility

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Cruelty is a historical constant across world politics. Nonetheless, something has changed. Today, it is possible to observe death, massacre, torture, police brutality, terrorist attacks, drone strikes, and more, in high-definition video. Sometimes, we can watch live. In this article, I ask what it means when the historical sanitization of cruelty, injustice, and violence is stripped away. I do so in three ways. First, I explore how digital media has transformed how knowledge of violence is produced, circulates, and affects those who witness it. I focus in particular on how this visibility of cruelty affectively fractures our ontological security, undermines societal solidarity, and amplifies polarization. Second, I describe how this process is marked by substantive global inequalities vis-à-vis who is “protected” (or not) from exposure to graphic imagery. Third, I ground my discussion empirically through participant observation conducted with members of the militia group Hezbollah that focused on their emotional, affective, discursive, and political reactions to watching videos circulating on social media depicting members of their own group committing war crimes in Syria. The article concludes by dwelling on the worrying possible political futures these dynamics appear to be opening up.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Studies Quarterly
Issue number2
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2022

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