A shock site is a website that is intended to be offensive or disturbing to its viewers, though it can also contain elements of humor or evoke (in some viewers) sexual arousal. They contain material of high shock value, generally of a pornographic, scatological, racist, sexist, graphically violent, insulting, vulgar, profane, or otherwise provocative nature. Some shock sites display a single picture, animation, video clip or small gallery, and are circulated via email or disguised in posts to discussion sites as a prank. Steven Jones distinguishes these sites from those that collect galleries where users search for shocking content, such as Rotten.com. Gallery sites can contain beheadings, execution, electrocution, suicide, murder, stoning, torching, drowning, vehicular accidents, war victims, rape, necrophilia, genital mutilation and other sexual crimes.
Some shock sites have also gained their own subcultures and have become internet memes on their own. Goatse.cx featured a page devoted to fan-submitted artwork and tributes to the site's
hello.jpg, and a parody of the image was unwittingly shown by a BBC newscast as an alternative for the then-recently unveiled logo for the 2012 Summer Olympics. A 2007 shock video known as 2 Girls 1 Cup also quickly became an Internet phenomenon, with videos of reactions, homages, and parodies widely posted on video sharing sites such as YouTube.
There have been several shock galleries that have launched and shut down. Rotten.com hosted murder videos and images of deceased people and brandished the motto "Pure Evil Since 1996". During their operation, the owners of Rotten.com launched several new sites, one of which was Shockumentary.com in 2006. Shockumentary.com was created to sell mondo films like Traces of Death (1993). Ogrish.com (established in 2000) hosted "mutilated corpses, car accidents, burn victims, congenital malformations and other grotesqueries". Ogrish.com's reputation rested on its publication of gore media from terrorists and war. In 2006, Ogrish.com was rebranded as Liveleak.com. BestGore, established in 2008 by Mark Marek, was notorious for its extremely graphic content, such as photos and videos of murders, suicides and violent accidents with an estimated 15–20 million monthly visits during its operation. He pleaded guilty and was given a six-month conditional sentence for his role. Some shock galleries, however, established more specific niches. The sites Necrobabes, Cannibal Café, and Gourmet tailored themselves to would-be cannibals in the early 2000s. These sites gained attention in 2003 when Armin Meiwes, an aspiring cannibal, used the sites to connect with Jürgen Brandes, a man who desired to be eaten. The two met, and Brandes' murder and cannibalism were recorded and posted on various sites. Additionally, Graham Coutts visited Necrobabes, Rapepassion, Violentpleasure, and Hangingbitches frequently before strangling teacher Jane Longhurst.
There have also been several individual videos that received viral attention. Goatse was one of the earliest and best-known shock sites, featuring an image of a man stretching his anus with his hands. The site featured a page devoted to fan-submitted artwork and tributes to the site. The site was shut down in 2004; however, various mirror sites featuring the image still exist. In 2012, it was resurrected as an e-mail service. In 2008, the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs posted the graphic murder video "3 Guys 1 Hammer". This was followed years later by Eric Clinton Kirk Newman's (known now as Luka Rocco Magnotta) video "1 Lunatic 1 Icepick" in 2012—a video of Newman murdering Chinese student Jun Lin that contained dismemberment, cannibalism, and necrophilia and was posted on Bestgore.com. Newman also shared a video one year prior of him using a vacuum and plastic bag to suffocate two kittens to the song "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon to several gore sites. Meatspin is a shock site containing a looping video (set playing to "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) by Dead or Alive") of a man and a trans woman engaging in sexual activity while the receiving partner's penis spins endlessly. A counter keeps track of how many "spins" the viewer has watched. In 2013, a student at Florida State University hacked the wireless network of his campus and redirected all traffic to Meatspin. In 2015, consternation followed when a family restaurant played the website in front of young children. In 2016, the website was played on a public digital billboard in Sweden, resulting in international media attention. The site first went live on March 10, 2005. As of 2017[update] the domain is now meatspin.cc. John-Michael Bond of The Daily Dot stated that to an extent, "casual homophobia" of the 2000s helped popularize meatspin.
Currently, there is no federal or state legislation in the United States outlawing snuff films that depict the murder of a human being—a common source of material for shock sites. In 2000, California introduced a bill to outlaw these films, but after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised protest over First Amendment Concerns, the bill failed to pass. No other bill has passed since. Supreme Court case Miller v. California established a test to determine whether content falls under the category of unprotected obscenity. The Miller test requires that content "appeals to the prurient interest" to be obscene, meaning content must have a sexual component.
That test was modified by United States v. Richards, which ruled that animal crush videos (videos that involve the murder of animals) can be obscene and therefore, are unprotected by the First Amendment even though they do not clearly appeal to sexual interests. The court ruled animal crush videos to be unprotected obscenity for two reasons. First, animal crush videos can appeal to a "specific sexual fetish," which fits the sexual conduct requirement of the Miller test. Second, United States v. Richards modified the Miller test by ruling that obscenity "can also cover unusual deviant acts" even if they are not directly sexual. Child pornography also falls under the category of unprotected obscenity by these tests. Due to the combination of murder and pornography depicted on shock sites that contain murder videos like gore2gasm.com, legal scholars have argued that murder videos also appeal to specific sexual interests and are thus unprotected under United States v. Richards.
In terms of liability, unless snuff films are illegal, third party providers like shock sites that host murder videos and related snuff films are protected by the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA). However, websites that require users to upload illegal content or actively encourage users to create and share illegal content can be held liable. Additionally, courts have granted increasing privacy rights to families over the publication and distribution of images of deceased relatives. The owners of Rotten.com were successfully sued by families for hosting photos of dead people and videos of their deaths on the site.
In the UK, legislators passed the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008, which included a section outlawing extreme pornography (that which is intended to sexually arouse viewers that threatens a person's life, is likely to seriously harm a person's anus, breasts, or genitals, or involves a human corpse or an animal). This has resulted in shock sites, as well as US pornographers including Max Hardcore and Extreme Associates, being convicted of obscenity in the UK.
During the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, the shooter broadcast the killings live on Facebook. The video was shared on Facebook and uploaded to YouTube shortly after. Footage of the mass killings were hosted on 4chan, 8chan, LiveLeak, Voat, Zero Hedge, and KiwiFarms. Rather than the Australian government trying to ban this specific instance of murder videos, internet service providers in Australia chose to place temporary blocks on any sites that hosted the footage until all the footage was believed to be removed.
Several ethical concerns have been raised on the topic of shock sites and murder videos. One concern is that the popularity of shock sites will encourage an increase in violent murders; which can result in more extreme and violent videos that will likely generate more views on shock sites. Murder videos can inspire copycats to replicate the snuff films. After one of the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs' videos leaked on the internet as "3 Guys 1 Hammer" in 2007, Eric Clinton Kirk Newman murdered Lin Jun, a Chinese student, and uploaded the video (including scenes of dismemberment, cannibalism, and necrophilia) under the similar title of "1 Lunatic 1 Icepick" in 2012.
Another concern is the right of a victim and the victim's family to privacy after death. This is the issue of whether Lin Jun's parents have a right to remove the video of their son's murder from the internet. Murder victims cannot consent to the footage of their deaths being used and uploaded, and several court cases have agreed that parents and loved ones should have a right to prevent the widespread viewership of a personal tragedy and stop the video from being published.
Finally, while shock value is not sufficient to justify banning content legally (as was determined by Cohen v. California), there are still ethical concerns about the emotional damages caused by the jarring nature and content of shock sites. Viewing violent content such as murder videos on social media can cause or trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cause other emotional distress.
As more people upload and view murder videos on shock sites, some believe that this practice is being mirrored in the horror movie genre. The presence of CCTV in Saw and the online torture auctions in Hostel Part II raise questions on the nefarious use of monitoring systems and the widespread access to videos of Al-Qaeda beheadings, executions in American prisons, and other real depictions of violence and murder on the internet. In examples like Saw, the contemporary horror genre reflects real horror on the internet.
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