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Taiwan plane crash: Dashcam videos flood YouTube

Within hours of a passenger plane clipping a bridge and crashing into a river, chilling dashcam videos from passing vehicles appear online. Some, incredibly, are even set to music.

Rescue efforts after the TransAsia plane crash in Taipei. BBC screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Initial reports suggested no one had died. Today, at the time of writing, CNN was reporting that the death toll was at least 31.

When a TransAsia passenger plane carrying 58 people crashed into a bridge and plunged into the Keelung River in Taipei, the first images broadcast were of survivors in the water, wearing life jackets.

Within hours, however, YouTube was driving the news and determining the images portrayed. Dashcam videos of the crash began appearing, shot by cars that narrowly avoided being hit by the plane. The footage in one video is in such extreme close-up that it seems the driver didn't even have time to slow down.

The plane appears just above a line of buildings. Turning at an extreme angle, it dips over the bridge and clips the road with a wingtip. Then it plunges out of the shot. It's the sort of thing you're used to seeing in disaster movies.

With gadgets and YouTube, however, the disaster movie is yours before the news of the crash has even been sorted out. And it shouldn't need saying, but then again maybe it does: You can't wish away the fears by saying it's only a movie. This is for real.

Once the footage appeared on YouTube yesterday, it was immediately embedded into reports from seemingly every news site across the world.

It was news. But humanity's need to rubberneck was being fed through the medium of instant visual drama.

At one point last night, BBC News featured a still of the crashing plane, credited to a YouTube poster called War News. This version of the footage didn't merely show the action. The poster decided to set it to dramatic music, as if the horror of a crashing plane carrying people to their death wasn't enough.

It had to be turned into a movie, just like the rest of our lives these days.

"Hard to watch, hard not to watch," as one friend told me. I wondered about that, in considering the decision of some news stations yesterday to show footage of Jordanian hostage Muadh al-Kasasbeh being savagely burned alive by members of Isis.

How many decided to watch -- even though they knew it would be terrifying -- a scene the likes of which they had so far seen only in a movie? They had to see it for themselves. Just as many had to see a plane crashing for themselves, even if they knew it would shock them. Or perhaps because they knew it would shock them.

When the dramatic happens, we want to see it for ourselves first. Our sympathies come a little later, if they come at all.

Ours is an instant, on-demand world, in which everyone is a photographer, writer and publisher.

We share before we think. We react before we consider. We want before we even care whether it's good for us or might hurt someone else.

Because, every day, we need some kind of fix to get our instincts racing.

Meanwhile, families mourn loved ones lost.