social media viral videos

We live in a time where everyone owns a smartphone with a camera and is a user of some form of social media. Viral videos are taking the modern world by storm. A viral video is any clip, animation or film that is spread rapidly through online sharing. Viral videos receive millions of views very quickly as they are shared on social media sites, reposted to blogs, sent via WhatsApp, to emails and so on. No matter your social media platform of choice, you are likely to have come across a viral video at some point or another. Most of the videos that instantly become viral videos are funny clips, but what is the legal position for those that record an illegal act, which is somehow posted to a social media site and then goes “viral”.

A growing trend is evident in some of the more serious viral videos circulating on social media. For instance, the ever-growing videos of school ground assaults. These videos are usually recorded by a friend who is aware that the assault will occur before it happens to allow him/her to record the assault. Those making the recordings can be heard at times cheering on the attacker or laughing as the victim is beaten into submission. Whilst the attack may leave the victim with a few bumps and bruises, the lasting effects of the public embarrassment of becoming a “viral victim” may take their toll, as was the recent case where a victim of an assault went home and committed suicide.

These viral video seekers should be careful as they are walking a fine line between being an innocent bystander to the attack or being considered an accomplice to the criminal act. If the latter is the case, the person recording the assault may find themselves equally criminally liable for the assault without having lifted a finger to the victim.

The doctrine of common purpose is a principle of law that states if several persons act together in the pursuance of common intent, every act done in furtherance of such intent by each individual, is in law done by all involved, irrespective of their individual involvement in the act.

Accomplice liability will allow the court to find a person criminally liable for acts committed by a different person.  If it can be proved that such a person aids, assists, or encourages another in the commission of a crime, they are said to be an “accomplice” to the crime.

Whilst there is no clear obligation on bystanders to become involved when they witness an illegal act, the new trend of recording such an act instead of helping the victim or seeking help for the victim ought to be socially frowned upon. It surely cannot be socially acceptable to do anything out of fear of missing out on a potential viral video. It is far too late for those same people to become enraged by the video after the fact when the video has gone viral and the public voices its outrage. It is only a matter of time before the public voices their disapproval towards those constantly chasing the viral video and perhaps before the law begins to apply the legal principles as set out above against those behind the camera.


If you are a victim of an assault which has been captured on video and you suspect other persons are involved, other than the attacker, contact BBP Law Attorneys. We will help you see the innocent bystanders from the attackers.


Matthew Ashworth
Senior Associate


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