The ‘mediated public sphere’ is defined by Jurgen Habermas as “a domain of our social life where such a thing as public opinion can be formed [where] citizens…deal with matters of general interest without being subject to coercion… [to] express and publicise their views” (1997: 105). An example of a ‘popular’ media medium that has provoked many controversial issues and debates in this public sphere is that of ‘snuff films’, and in particular 3 Guys 1 Hammer. A snuff film is defined as “a motion picture genre that depicts the actual murder of a person or people, without the aid of special effects, for the express purpose of distribution and entertainment or financial exploitation” (Mikkelson, 2006).
Since the launch of the first ever official snuff website, Rotten.com, in 1996, this urban legend of a medium has become increasingly real, prominent and accessible online. This rapid rise in snuff films online has resulted in widespread debate in the public sphere, mostly concerning whether these websites are legal or illegal, and their members innocent or guilty of ‘accessory after the fact’ for watching, distributing and failing to report to the authorities acts of murder and other violent crimes (Mikkelson, 2006).
Despite the obvious reasons that have led to the condemnation of this medium, there have also proven to be beneficial uses for the websites that stream snuff films. Such as in the case of two Ukrainian teenagers responsible for 21 murders throughout 2007, known as the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs. In this case, life-sentences for pre-meditated murder were delivered to both 19 year olds as a result of their snuff film depicting the murder of Sergei Yatzenko, called 3 Guys 1 Hammer, which was uploaded to numerous gore websites, went viral, was subsequently reported by one of the websites’ members and then used as key evidence in the prosecution (Olson, 2012).
One member of GoreGrish.com, known as Kingfate, stated in an interview concerning this snuff film and the debate over whether these websites should be criminalised or not, “we live in the developed world, and we don’t have exposure to how people actually treat each other… [gore sites] keep us rooted in reality”. Another member, known as Niki, also stated, “posting these videos doesn’t mean that we condone them, we’re just giving people a means to see what’s going on. When you hear a bomb has gone off in Moscow, we try to find those images and put them up for people who want to see. And why should we not see it?” (Anderson, 2012).
And so the debate in the public sphere rages on, are these websites illegal and their members criminally responsible for sponsoring the horrific crimes displayed in these websites’ content, or are we to accept the ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ argument concerning user-generated online content enforced by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and upheld by the members of these websites (Anderson, 2012)? Either way, I certainly don’t expect to see any less of these videos in my Facebook newsfeed in the years to come, and regardless of any given explanation or justification I find that more than just a little disturbing.
1. Habermas, J 1997, A Berlin Republic, University of Nebraska, Nebraska, pp 105
2. McKee, A 2005, ‘Introduction’, in ‘Public Sphere: An Introduction‘, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 1-31
3. Mikkelson, B, Mikkelson, DP 2006, A Pinch of Snuff, Snopes, California
4. Anderson, L 2012, Snuff: Murder and torture on the internet, and the people who watch it, The Verge, Manhattan
5. Olson, CV 2012, Serial Killer Spotlight: The Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs, Crime Library