Digital Events: Media Rituals in the Digital Age

The shaky video clip lasts for less than one minute. A young woman falls to the ground in a pool of her own blood, bleeding from her chest, as several men rush to her side. Two men press their palms against her chest attempting to stop the massive bleeding. As the camera operator approaches, her pupils roll to one side, she seems to be looking into the camera. Another woman’s screams are heard as the men frantically shout “Neda” and plead with her to stay with us and open her eyes (Omidsaeedi, YouTube, 2009). Blood streams out of her nose and mouth into one of her eyes; she dies with her eyes open.

The woman in the video was later identified by her fiancée as Neda Agha Soltan. Neda lay dying on Kargar Ave. in Tehran, Iran Saturday June 20, 2009 during a post-election protest, allegedly shot in the chest by a member of the Basij, a voluntary militia that takes its orders from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Using a cell phone, an anonymous bystander digitally captured the moments just after Neda was shot. According to news reports, the author of the video then contacted a virtual friend he had met through Facebook who lived in the Netherlands, and asked him to post the footage. The virtual friend, known only by his first name, Hamed, uploaded the footage to the Internet and sent copies to the BBC and The Guardian as well as other media outlets. Within hours, two distinct clips surfaced on Facebook and YouTube. Shortly thereafter, the video was broadcast by CNN, thus making “Neda” a household name (Langendonck, NRC Handelsblad, 2009).

Today, I am here to talk about how mobile and social media fit in to the ongoing discussions about media’s influence on public life. I am going to make this argument in three parts. First, by offering a brief overview of Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz’s concept of the “media event,” as outlined in their book of the same name, and more recent additions and amendments to this theory. I will then define what I call the “digital event” by looking at the capture, distribution and reaction to the Neda video. . . .

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