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BestGore and TheYNC: should shock websites be censored?

By Sofia Gallarate

Dec 29, 2020

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On 18 December, 2019, Netflix released a three-episode show called Don’t F**** With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer, opening a gruesome Pandora’s box most people had forgotten about. The show follows the story of Luka Magnotta, a former adult entertainer turned sadistic cat-torturer, turned—eventually—killer. What the documentary also did, in hindsight, is shed light back on bestgore.com, the most popular, and arguably the most disturbing shock website, and the moral and legal controversies behind its existence.

1 Lunatic 1 Icepick

In 2013, a video called 1 Lunatic 1 Icepick was published on bestgore.com showing Magnotta brutally murdering Lin Jun, an engineering student from China who had moved to Montreal, Canada, for his studies. After dismembering his body, Magnotta sent several of Jun’s body parts to Canadian political parties among other recipients. The video is a 10-minute unbearable sequence of images, which was described by Mark Marek, Best Gore’s founder, as “without a doubt the sickest thing you will have ever seen in your entire life,” on the video’s caption.

Shortly after posting the video, Magnotta was trialled and found guilty of first-degree murder in 2014, while Mark Marek was accused by the Canadian authorities of “corrupting morals,” based on a law from 1949 which states that anyone who “makes, prints, publishes, distributes, circulates, or has in his possession for the purpose of publication, distribution or circulation any obscene written matter, picture, model, phonograph record or other thing whatever” might risk going to jail. According to the law, the word ‘obscenity’ is used to describe any materials mixed with violence, sex, and degradation, as reported by Adrienne Jeffries in an article published by The Verge. In it, Jeffries questions the responsibility of Marek within this story, asking whether is it correct that he faced jail for posting a video of the murder.

Should the shock websites Best Gore and The YNC be censored?

Despite the sickening violence depicted on 1 Lunatic 1 Icepick, when you scroll through Best Gore, Magnotta’s video is in good company. The Canadian website features some of the most graphic violence that occurs on earth, all made by human hands. Among its different categories, users can find gang executions, ISIS beheadings, car accidents and videos depicting cases of police brutality from all over the world. With an average of 200,000 pageviews a day, the demand for this type of content is high, to say the least.

Shock, or gore, websites started appearing in 1996, when rotten.com was founded. Rotten started the ‘trend’ by mostly featuring still images of car accidents and medical conditions but it was in the early 2000s that ogrish.com paved the way for a category of its own. These types of websites are technically legal and are still live online, like the famous theYNC and goregrish, both available on theync.com and goregrish.com. In the US, all websites are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), meaning that if you publish user-generated content, you’re not responsible for what it portrays.

The circulation of violent content online is part of an ongoing debate that repeatedly puts at stake the internet’s freedom, but what is the price users are willing to pay to keep the internet a free—and to some extent unregulated—space? Despite the voyeuristic and sadistic purposes that most likely hide behind most of Best Gore’s users, the idea behind Best Gore and Marek’s manifesto lies on a (relatively) reasonable basis.

Among the website’s several statements on freedom of speech on the internet and the threat of online censorship, Marek writes, “Harm to freedom of expression caused by censorship of content just because some may deem it blasphemous, obscene or morally-corrupting would be devastating and should be of utmost concern to all people of conscience. […] And this is where Best Gore steps in, as the website has played a pivotal role in exposing lies which were declared as official truths by the mainstream media, exposed countless cases of police brutality, governments sanctioned terrorism, war profiteering, fear mongering and other unsavory activities which enslave the people in injustice.”

The issue with online toxicity is that we don’t seem to be able to pinpoint whether what we see online influences real-life actions or vice versa. If this violence exists in real life, is there a point in censoring its representation online? The internet entailed a moral and ethical compromise since day one, and it’s with websites such as Best Gore that we are reminded of how severe this paradox can get. Whether we can handle it is up to you and me.