Social media video: How to stop auto play

image copyrightAFP
image captionUsers have complained about videos being played automatically on Twitter and Facebook

The killing of Russia's ambassador to Turkey in Ankara was caught on video and many people, unwittingly, watched it on social media. This was because the video played automatically on their feeds, angering many users.

What are the dangers of exposure and what can you do to prevent the playback?

The danger of exposure to violence

It varies from individual to individual. Recent studies have suggested that exposure to violent imagery can cause a process of sensitisation, when individuals become more sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. Or the opposite, desensitisation, when people get used to what they see and become less sensitive to the emotions.

Some people may also become more vulnerable and fearful of the world around them, especially when those incidents happen in day-to-day places, such as transport systems, nightclubs or commercial centres, as in the past few years. Others may become more anxious.

A study by a team from the University of Bradford, in England, suggested last year that exposure to violent content on social media could cause symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which include flashbacks, avoidance, sleep disturbances and mood changes.

Studies have also suggested that these images can have an impact on children, but it is still unclear if they alone are able to cause changes in their behaviour.

How can I protect myself? Part 1 - technically

There are some ways, especially on social media websites where videos usually play automatically.

On Facebook, select Settings, then Videos on the left bar, and on the Auto-Play Videos section select Off.

image copyrightFacebook

And on Twitter, go to Settings, and on the main page Account go to Video Tweets section and disable the function Video autoplay.

image copyrightTwitter

Some of the complaints were also directed at news websites that automatically play videos on their pages.

The BBC News website, for instance, does not play videos automatically within stories and a warning is regularly displayed on videos that contain disturbing images.

In this case, the BBC decided not to show the moment of the shooting or the body of the ambassador after he was hit. But the video showed the attacker with the gun after the shooting.

image captionExample of the warning the BBC showed on the video

A BBC News website article about the photographer that did show a still image of the body carried the bold line - Warning: Graphic images follow - before showing the picture further down.

How can I protect myself? Part 2 - wellbeing

Writing on, Gail Saltz, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell Medical College, recommends that, if feeling uneasy about what you see, try to distract yourself with other activities, such as exercise or listening to music.

She adds that it is also important to have a healthy sleeping routine and to be conscious about the time you spend on social media or checking the news.

As a parent, experts say, it is important to keep across your children's online activity, such as friends or pages liked on Facebook or profiles followed on Twitter and Instagram, and the content they are being exposed to at home.

John Sharry, from the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct senior lecturer at the School of Psychology at University College Dublin, told the Irish Times: "It is important that you protect your children from the impact of these bad news stories and ensure you are there to explain and support them when they do witness them."

How to act, he says, depends on the age of your children:

  • 0 to 7 years old: Young children should be fully protected from viewing bad news stories in the media
  • 7 to 11 years old: They become much more aware of the news around them and will ask questions about it. But it is still important to protect them from over-exposure
  • 11 years old +: They are much more independent in consuming news and discussing them away from home. Talking about those difficult issues can be the beginning of an emerging adult-like relationship with them

How have people reacted?

Many have complained. Some others have called on websites like Facebook and Twitter to turn off the function in the case of sensitive videos. Here are some reactions.

image copyrightTwitter - @laurentiuion
image copyrightTwitter - @gergiarae
image copyrightTwitter - @jmkeep
image copyrightTwitter - @chelswhyte