Not Safe For Life (NSFL)

Tippy Ki Yay
15 min readJul 27, 2017

I am a self-proclaimed Redditor. And by Redditor, I mean a frequent visitor and contributor of the website: Reddit describes itself as the front page of the internet — it is a display case of information and materials collected and submitted by members of the community, following very specific themes and rules, for the purpose of raising awareness and generating discussion. Anyone can submit material or comment on submitted material, as long as you create a username and a password. Everything is anonymous.

Reddit is like other link sharing platforms, such as YouTube and Facebook, because there is a point system in place that determines which materials and comments surface to the top of the thread — to become the first thing one sees when the page is opened. Materials and comments that are considered the funniest, the most meaningful, the most important, or the most ‘need-to-be-seen’ — are “upvoted.” The disliked links or comments are “downvoted.” This ensures that “the hottest stories rise to the top, while cooler stories sink.” Depending on your interests, whatever they may be — and I stress whatever — one can subscribe to corresponding “subreddits.” There are subreddits for hobbies, competitions, advice, porn — you name it. There is a subreddit for the care and keeping of tarantulas (/r/tarantulas). There is a subreddit for images of interesting staircases around the world (/r/crazystairs).

But what I find to be the juiciest subreddit by far is /r/AskReddit, where Redditors can ask one question at a time to the broader Reddit community. Some of these questions are light-hearted: “What joke is so stupid that it’s funny?” Some of these questions are serious and personal: “Teen fathers, what did you do when you found out she was pregnant and how did you deal with it?” And some of these questions are hypothetical situations, that beg for a little creativity: “You have thirty minutes to do anything with any celebrity you choose. Who do you choose and what do you do?”

Basically, /r/AskReddit is a goldmine of conceptual literature waiting to happen.

However, during my years of experience as a Redditor, one question in particular stands out in my memories as triggering the most revealing and captivating responses — “What is the scariest video/audio recording you’ve come across?” Out of the seemingly infinite pages of replies that this question has spawned, I compiled only the first eight. Within these mere eight pages, the text explores themes of intensifying variety, from access to Internet materials, to personal experiences of trauma and witnessing trauma, to police brutality, to what it means to be human.

The video and audio recordings submitted to this thread are united usually by material depicting violence from and towards human beings, which one Redditor makes a point to observe. However, the type of violence varies — buildings on fire, a man being decapitated, mass suicides. One video clip is not violence at all, but a TV hijacking incident that has never been explained. However, usually accompanied by a short description of the video/audio clip, there is a link posted that grants the viewer access to the material. Sometimes the video/audio clip is not posted by the same Redditor who describes it — other Redditors will actively search for the link, in order to supply it to the general public. In one amazing instant, a Redditor refuses to “give up” a clip of a policeman being murdered, but another Redditor steps up to supply it. However, once the link has been offered, it is easy to distinguish two distinct types of readers who react to the offer — those who click and risk being disturbed (which one user describes as the “bravado Redditors”) — and those who don’t.

Those who don’t are still morbidly curious, and seek to satiate their curiosity by asking the others for a written-out explanation of the material. Some people make excuses for their request — one states that they are reading this thread late at night, and do not want to risk not being able to sleep. Other Redditors comply, and go into remarkable detail describing the recordings for others who are too scared of being disturbed.

Many Redditors submit links but immediately warn the Reddit community to not watch or listen to the content — sending a contradictory message by simultaneously granting access to the material and stamping a giant warning label on it. Sometimes this warning label works against itself by enticing Redditors even more. Viewers voice their regret by stamping their own warning labels as comments:

“Please Redditors… this one is pretty graphic… may not be worth to watch. Spare yourselves.” “I feel it’s my responsibility to warn you not to watch/listen to this dashboard cam, unless you want to be haunted by death screams. Really. DON’T.” “Heed my warning, fellow Redditors. Resist the urge. I hope to god I’ve reached you all in time.”

A shortened warning that some Redditors use in accompaniment to their link is “NSFL.” NSFL is a twist on the term “NSFW,” which accompanies links that are Not Safe For Work. Because Internet users are unable to see the content of links until they are clicked on, this term has been developed for those who are at work, and risk being penalized for looking at graphic material. NSFW usually insinuates that the link in question contains pornography or gore. NSFL are links Not Safe For Life — meaning that they contain disturbing material that is not appropriate no matter what.

Obviously, anything that is labeled NSFL is automatically paradoxical — if it shouldn’t be viewed, why is it being made available for viewing?

The term NSFL comments on the simultaneously attractive and repulsive forces of violence in the media. One Redditor suggests that our empathy is what makes the experience of watching people getting injured or killed difficult for us — we imagine what the pain would be like for us. Witnessing death reminds us of our own mortality. The same Redditor is comforted by the number of people who are disturbed by the recordings because it is evidence of what makes us “human.” But then why did anyone visit this disturbing thread, watch this disturbing content, submit these disturbing links? Why does anyone want to be disturbed, especially with the guaranteed possibility that they will regret it?

Claude Lévi-Strauss believed in “a desire for knowledge for its own sake.” Perhaps by witnessing real stories of violence and trauma, we are becoming more comfortable with the confirmation of our own inevitable demise. The realization that yes, this could be me — helps to prepare us for the worst, should it ever befall us.

The video recordings of violence especially provide an audio and visual experience — perhaps the closest we can come to living traumatic events without ever actually being in danger. Those who have seen the videos have more authority in the thread than those who haven’t — this is a perfect example of what I am calling “occularcentrism.” The eye is epistemically privileged as a viable source of truth and knowledge, as opposed to other senses, which are deemed to be more prone to falsity. In the modern world, occularcentrism manifests in expressions like “Seeing is believing,” and “I saw it with my own eyes,” which implicitly criticize other senses as illegitimate sources of information. By watching these videos, Redditors are reaffirming their own relationship with death and violence — they are coming to terms with the possibility of experiencing pain like the victims they encounter.

As for my readers, I have provided most of the links in the original thread. I leave the reader with the same choice that every participant in this thread has to make — should you watch? Will you regret it? Were you planning on sleeping tonight?

“What is the scariest video/audio recording you’ve come across?”

“Or the most disturbing. I just watched the video that was on the front page earlier today of Kevin Cosgrove’s final phone call during 9/11 and it was pretty scary. What have you guys come across that you couldn’t get out of your head?”

“Station Night Club Fire. How quickly the place goes up is frightening.”

“I had to watch this for my EMT class a few years ago. We saw the unedited version. It was pretty bad seeing all the bodies piled up at the door.”

“The fucked up thing is, there were two emergency exits that were easily accessible near the stage. No one used them. They all ran for the main entrance.”

“I know this is sort of a fucked up thing to ask, but . . . is the unedited version online somewhere? I’m interested in seeing it.”

“Watching the people outside trying to pull others out from being stuck in the entrance was awful. I can’t imagine trying to save someone’s life like that and being unable because they are wedged in.”

“I grew up in RI and remember when this happened. Stumbled upon the video a few months ago and it was by far the most haunting, disturbing thing I have seen to date. I can’t believe I sat through the whole thing, I just couldn’t look away. Just watching the video has given me a major fear of crowded, confined spaces. Oh my gosh, the terror and panic those people must have felt, I can’t imagine.”

“People died in this fire. Fuck.”

“That and the ‘three guys, one hammer’ murder video have affected me more than anything else I’ve seen on the Internet.”

“I don’t think I ever wanna go in a night club again.”

“I heard the woman screaming, ‘Where’s my husband,’ and quit.”

“So, interestingly enough, the person filming that was actually a TV cameraman for local station WPRI-TV that was filming for a story about night club tragedies and safety. WPRI-TV settled law suits for 30 million based on the claim that their cameraman was obstructing escape and not helping people exit. I don’t see any way that cameraman was obstructing escape, but whatever.”

“Heck, in fact the guy runs in back to check to see if anyone made it out…”

“Max Headroom has always scared the shit out of me, it was an unknown broadcast hijack of Doctor Who, and to this day they still don’t know who did it or why they did.”

“Also the Backwards Radio Station is pretty weird, it’s a shortwave radio broadcast that nobody really knows from where or why it exists. I can’t listen to much of it before it gets too uncomfortable.”

“Another shortwave radio station which I found on 4chan’s /x/ (paranormal) boards which is pretty creepy is UVB-76, which has been broadcasting a buzzing noise from somewhere in Russia for over 30 years now. Only a handful of times has there ever been anything apart from buzzing, and one of those times was when I stumbled across the thread about it in /x/. There were muffled voices and unidentified sounds in the background, and considering it was 3AM it was creepy as fuck to listen to. You can even listen to it live. What’s more creepy about it is once the broadcasting location was found, but it was packed up and moved within the day. Since then I’ve actually grown quite fond of the buzzing sound, it’s good background noise to surf the internet to sometimes, though it just has that little edge of creepiness to it.”

“I don’t know if you’ve seen this or not, but you might like this on the Max Headroom incident.”

“Max Headroom looks like a clever pair of kids on acid.”

“Can you touch on this Max Headroom item, I refuse to watch anything at 3:25AM. Sorry, a quick google search turned up very little.”

“Well, Max Headroom was a character on an odd TV show in the ’80s in Britain. Basically what happened in the show was a computer-generated face of a man would talk in a robotic-style ‘sample’ voice over a nauseating background of rotating square-type things. Then, in 1987 someone (it’s still unknown who, but another Redditor commented this interesting link on the possible identity) ‘took over’ a broadcast of an episode of Doctor Who, impersonating Max Headroom. The whole video is pretty deranged and weird, it features a man wearing a mask with a very distorted voice, and some sort of corrugated iron in the background to imitate the one of the original character. It’s not quite known what message he was trying to convey, as much of the audio is pretty indecipherable, but either way it’s creepy as hell, and I couldn’t imagine how many bricks I would’ve shat if I were watching some Doctor who and that shit suddenly popped up. EDIT: Also, this is the wrong thread to be in at 3:25AM.”

“I was downloading porn on kazaa way back in the day. On that thing you never really knew what you were going to get. Instead of porn, one video was a woman tied up in a chair crying and pleading for her life, then being shot in the head. I am not sure if it was real, but it certainly appeared so. It freaked me out. I deleted the vid and didn’t watch porn for weeks…”

“I watched it when I was 16. There was a blue background, right?”

“I tell my friends new to torrenting, read the fucking comments.”

“Kazaa, the russian roulette of p2p clients.”

“In a class about sexual assault and its psychological effects, we listened to a 911 call of a woman that heard someone break into her house when she was home alone at night. It went on for ages, as the woman frantically describes how she could hear someone coming up the stairs, the operator tries to get her to calm down/keep quiet and hide, and the door audibly opens. The woman starts screaming for him to leave, and the man barely says anything. Then, you can hear him attacking her while the 911 operator is saying over and over that the police are on their way. The police did get there within a few minutes, and they did catch the guy, but for all intents and purposes, it was too late. The screams of true terror are something that no scripted film can ever reproduce.”

“This is a huge fear of mine. It is, honestly, why I leave a huge baseball bat and knife under my bed in easy reach. I will never be vulnerable to anyone who tries to attack me in my own home.”

“Jonestown suicide tapes. Drink the kool-aid.”

“I listened to the entire thing one night and ended up crying for a good two hours.”

“The babies scream until they die. You literally hear them die. It’s fucking terrible. Babies don’t cry like that… then it goes silent and it gets more depressing.”

“My heart races just thinking about it.”

“Definitely a crazy cult! Even crazier: The fact that one man had that kind of power, to make everyone stop their lives, ship out to Guyana and start building. A doc I watched showed how shitty conditions were.”

“It didn’t hit the fan until that visiting congressman and his crew got shot, after someone passed a note to him saying Get us out of here.”

“Horribly sad, amazingly fascinating. The most fucked up part? How his evil henchwoman assistant got on the microphone to calm all the mothers down.”

“The fact that one man had that kind of power”

“No one man should have all that power.”

“Oh god, it’s truly disturbing.”

“This terrified me the first time I heard it. I just got finished writing a term paper over cults and forced myself to listen to this again. It fucked me up, man. Fuck cults like that. That’s just not right.”

“Manuel Mendez Leyva’s execution. This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to closing a video midway and throwing up in my mouth. NSFW/NSFL/NSFAnything.”

“Could someone explain what happens in this?”

“Yeah. Sorry about that. Basically, it’s the video of captured Mexican drug cartel member Manuel Leyva (I forget which cartel it is and don’t really want to go back and look) being questioned by members of a rival cartel about the plans of his cartel to start a turf war with them. He has his hands tied together at the wrists, and his face is covered with tape, except for the mouth and nose. After a few questions (I believe there are subtitles) the cartel member asking the questions un-sheaths some sort of military-grade serrated knife, and tells Leyva ‘You’re leaving now.’ Leyva asks ‘where to?’ a little apprehensively. Knife-man just repeats ‘You are leaving from here now,’ and tilts back Leyva’s head. Leyva instinctively pulls his hands up, but is quickly beaten while given orders to put them down. He complies, and the rival cartel member slits his throat near the base of the neck. He starts quickly, but slows down as he reaches the carotids, taking deep strokes with the knife and slicing deeper into the throat until he hits the windpipe. Leyva does not utter a sound, but an intermittent gurgling noise arises from his throat as blood bubbles up from his trachea. Imagine finishing a soda and sucking through the straw and getting liquid mixed with air. Sounds like that but wetter. Eventually, he seems to die, but the knife-man slices in deeper and initiates more pain and gurgling breaths which seem more desperate as time passes. Eventually the breathing stops altogether, and Leyva’s face, or the part that can be seen of it, is gray. When the knife-man reaches Leyva’s vertebral column, he gets the help of a second drug member in trying to cut through the bones. Using machete-style swings, they hit the bone over and over again, creating (involuntary?) spasms in the arms of Leyva. Eventually they get his head off and hold it in front of the camera for all to see, claiming ‘This is what will happen to you,’ (or something along those lines.) TL;DR: it’s a guy getting his head cut off.”

“Aaaaaaaand good night, Internet.”

“The video diaries of Ricardo Lopez. He’s the stalker who tried mailing a bomb to Bjork. I don’t know if they’re available in their entirety on Youtube, but they’re a pretty raw look into madness, and the final video is him shooting himself.”

“Also, the video of 6 soldiers being executed in Dagestan is probably the most difficult thing to watch I’ve ever seen.”

“Usually this kind of stuff really doesn’t affect me… but that execution video.. Oh my god… I have no words for it. That was absolutely horrifying. Please Redditors… this one is pretty graphic… may not be worth to watch. Spare yourselves…”

“Yeah, its one of those things you never really forget about. I haven’t watched it in years and really have no desire to. It’s not the murder, it’s the begging. That said I think everyone should watch it. Because this is what happens in war, no matter how much we try to sanitize it, no matter how much we want to think our guys would never do something like that. Don’t misunderstand me, not everyone does this, not even close. But it happens in pretty much every war in some form or another, on all sides of a conflict, it’s sick, and everyone should be aware of it.”

“I find it interesting that the scariest and creepiest stuff on here is usually the footage of people being injured or killed. For all the bravado Redditors (and most other internet users) put forward, the sight or sound of another human being in pain or dying, still shakes us to our core.”

“The powers that be would have us believe that violence in films and video games is desensitizing people to the extent that taking another persons life is just as easy as pulling the trigger on a game. Bullshit! There proof is right here. I think this thread proves it’s that people still care about people. Whether they know them or not, we still spare a thought for them (Even if it is something on the lines of ‘Fuuuck, his jaw’s all off and shit!’) when they suffer. We still feel sadness for them when their lives are cut short. These ramblings will undoubtably never be read by anyone, Ijust thought it’d be nice to put it out there. I’m proud of you… Planet Earth. Stay classy.”

“The shooting of Deputy Dinkheller. I feel it’s my responsibility to warn you not to watch/listen to this dashboard cam, unless you want to be haunted by death screams. Really. DON’T.”

“Had a great line of sight, suspect was reaching inside the car, would have had difficulty moving from the door there, leaving him trapped in the line of fire. Should have opened fire the SECOND the gun was in view. Officer feared for his life due to suspect behaving irrationally and responding aggressively to officer’s orders.”

“I understand that there is a strong anti-cop mentality here on Reddit, but sometimes the cop is the good guy, and has every right to take a life if he fears for his own. Now, obviously he should never abuse that power (I’m all for stricter police regulation) but still.”

“Just saw the video for the first time and love how hesitant the cop is to take another man’s life. It’s a shame he was killed for his humanity.”

“Link to the horrors?”


“Google ‘Deputy Dinkheller’ and it should be one of the top videos.”

“Heed my warning, fellow Redditors. Resist the urge. I hope to god I’ve reached you all in time.”

“I’m not clicking a single thing in here.”

“Reading the comments on that website was the most sickening part. People going on about how he deserved it for being a cop… had no right to pull that guy over and got what he deserved… Man was doing his job, showed restraint, and got killed over it by some nutjob. Really sad there are people like that in this world.”

“Fuck, why did I watch that. That was horrible.”