Worth a Thousand Words: Conducted Energy Devices, New Media Events, and The Public Eye

Friday, July 18, 2014: 11:30 AM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Nicole NEVERSON , Sociology, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Temitope ORIOLA , Department of Sociology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Charles ADEYANJU , Sociology and Anthropology, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, PE, Canada
Between April 2003 and November 2008, 26 men died in Canada during events where a conductive energy device (CED) was deployed on them. The death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, in 2007 at the Vancouver International Airport, was recorded on a mobile phone and its footage subsequently uploaded to the popular video site YouTube. The video, which documented Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers deploying a CED on Dziekanski, was viewed by thousands of citizens of the world and expanded its footprint beyond the Internet as traditional media organizations incorporated it into their coverage of the event. Unlike previous CED-related deaths, the recording of the Dziekanski death was an integral piece of the event’s anatomy and granted members of the mass public, as scrutinizers if not legitimate bystanders, entry into how it unfolded. Following Fiske (1996), we treat the recording, its dissemination via the Internet and broader news media, and its mass consumption as a ‘new media event’—one that amplified and articulated competing narratives of risk. We synthesize the work of Beck (1992), Giddens (1991; 1990), Hall et al. (1978), and Lupton (1999) and others in our examination of the You Tube video of Dziekanski’s death and over 400 reports in three major Canadian newspapers, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and the National Post. Using a broad critical approach, we assess how groups like the RCMP, government officials, and the general public made sense of the recording. The recording’s electronic nature, we argue, complicated an ‘open-shut’ case narrative commonly articulated by law enforcement officials when describing how they respond to and neutralize threats to the public. The existence of the recording allowed for competing assessments of threat and harm while altering the credibility of the police as sole purveyors of risk assessment.