Why the Berlin U-Bahn attack video has gone viral

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Why the Berlin U-Bahn attack video has gone viral
Screenshot from the video shared by police.

A clip of a man kicking a young woman down a flight of stairs in Berlin has spread across the world. But what is it about the video that has drawn so much attention?


Since the video was released by police last week, the original post on Facebook has been shared thousands of times and gained the attention of international media, as police continue the search despite having identified the culprit.

But especially given the multitude of other shocking and violent videos to be found online, why has this one gripped the public so strongly?
“The video has characteristics that make it attractive to viewers - even though it is of course a horrible scene,” explained Professor Martin Emmer, who specializes in media and communication studies at the Free University of Berlin.
“It shows a very typical, everyday situation that we all could be in. Therefore we feel personally very close to what happened. And that is not only as Berliners. This feeling of ‘that could be me’ affects people as well as fascinates them.”
Emmer added that the fact that the woman, fortunately, did not suffer more tragic consequences - such as death or being maimed - also made the video more shareable.
“If [something worse] had happened, its reach would have been limited because people would rather avoid it and not watch it again.”
The video was unique for the high quality of its images - you can clearly see the face of the perpetrator and his companions. Emmer said that this then provides viewers with a definite person onto which they can project their anger.
The video also played into certain stereotypes of young, drinking men as the attackers, and women as the victims of their violence.
“With such sharp images, we also then have similar images in our minds: ‘Aha, boys with beer bottles.’ This activates stereotypes. It lets us quickly classify the events. These schemas are always easier for our brains to understand - and also stir our fascination.”
Another part of the video that drew outrage from viewers online was how several other young men - who are reportedly relatives of the perpetrator - watch as their comrade attacks the woman. They then walk away, with one of them stopping to pick up a bottle as others near the fallen woman come to her aid.
The reaction of the attacker’s companions has something “unintentionally funny about it, as horrible as it is,” Emmer said.
“That can likewise contribute to the appeal of the video."
The video has also drawn the ire of some German celebrities, calling for the perpetrator to be hunted down. Two Berliners - including a former bodyguard to stars like Angelina Jolie - offered to pay of thousands of euros in reward money to find the man.
“It is simply the kind of issue that people can gather around. Almost everyone finds something like this to be outrageous. There is no risk in saying: ‘find the culprit!’” said Emmer.
“With celebrities it is also perhaps part of a self-marketing strategy, that they want to be the good ones.
“But I think that this is not strategic, rather it is also something visceral like what other internet users do. There is a construction of a digital ‘I’ - ‘I am good and am helping in the manhunt’. When private people then are offering ‘bounties’, I find this to be an extreme form of such self-glorification.”
Sharing such videos, though, can also have its downsides in that it can make people perceive greater danger in the world than there actually is, Emmer explained.
“Our perception of reality is also shaped by media. It can definitely be that feelings of insecurity, which are bolstered by media use, can influence our view of the world. That plays a part in the ongoing debate about post-factual, because actually violent crime in Germany has for years been on the decline.”
Interview with Martin Emmer by Ulrike von Leszczynski of DPA.



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