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A little taste of my Social Media love…

How Much Is Too Much?

on July 24, 2014

How much is too much? When it comes to using graphic photos in journalism and reporting, the line between “just right” and “too much” is quite thin. Graphic images can take on many different forms as well – it’s really in the “eye of the beholder” to determine if an image is too graphic for their liking. When discussing the topic of graphic images, our minds tend to immediately think of tragedies big and small. One of the most recent large-scale tragedies that we’ve seen was the bombing during the Boston Marathon in 2013.

The events of April 13, 2013 were large documented via social media. News outlets took to their Twitter feeds to update followers in real time and share up-close experiences with followers in faraway places. It was something that many of us had not experienced before – a tragic event being documented and updated by both “official” organizations and everyday citizens in rapid and real time. Because of the quick nature of the updates, many news outlets reported incorrect and misleading information. Not only were false reports floating around the Twitter-verse and beyond, so were questionably unethical and graphic images of victims, runners and passersby.

BostonOne image in particular gained a great deal of press – the image can be seen here to the right. Many may say this image shows the depth of hurt and pain that this event caused so many people and the incredibly first responders and volunteers that sprang into action. However, there is a different side to the story. There is a great possibility that this image reached the airwaves and Twitter feeds long before the man had a chance to contact his family and friends. How would you feel if this was your loved one and you found out he was seriously injured via a Twitter post? What if your child happened upon this photo? How would explain it and the events that took place? I’m an adult and a great deal of the images posted on this day were too hard and “real” for me to handle – I can’t imagine what would go through a minor’s mind when viewing such images.

This is just one case of news organizations utilizing potentially graphic images without fully thinking through the ethical implications of doing so. Thinking back to the events of September 11th, social media wasn’t even a factor in how the news reported the information on that day. Can you imagine how different the information from that day would have looked if Twitter and Instagram would have been a part of it? It’s almost scary to think about the amount of graphic images and videos that could have easily been shared with millions of people that day – in a way, we are probably better off to have not had the immediate and rapid-fire access that we have today. How different do you think the news coverage would have been if we were living in a “social” world in 2001?

While it is important for news outlets to share information and updates with the public, it’s equally as important for them to ensure they are doing everything possible to act ethically. Ethics is one big gray area and something that we might find offensive might not rub anyone else the wrong way. It’s a fine line that news organizations walk and there will probably never be a “right” and “wrong” answer to the age old “is this ethical” question. However, journalists can certainly use better judgment when it comes to sharing potentially graphic images.

Ta-ta for now!

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7 responses to “How Much Is Too Much?

  1. Lexi Rich says:

    Hi Lacee,

    Very good post. It actually almost gave me chills! It’s kind of frightening to think how different the course of history could have been if we had social media in 2001 and during the September 11 attacks. Back when this happened, I was 11 and was in middle school. All our teachers had to do was make sure they didn’t turn on the TV (which wasn’t very common anyway) to shield us from watching the news. Even in computer class, where my defiant teacher decided to show the news, we wouldn’t have gathered too much online. Imagine how different that would be now.

    At the same time, tragedies tend to unite people to a common goal. Other countries would have seen and watched the devastation and may have stepped in to help us more, or our own nation would have been incentivized to band together even more quickly (I lived in NJ at the time, so I know that my own community did, but I can’t recall if the rest of the country was as focused on the attack as we were), how we all did during the Boston Bombings. Lastly, we may have caught Osama quicker if we had social media at that time!
    Very thought provoking questions. 🙂

    • Hi Lexi –

      Thanks for reading! It gave me chills as I wrote about it as well – you’re not alone! I recall seeing some small snippets on TV during the day, but for the most part our teachers kept them off and tried to keep us all focused. However, even at a young age, you can tell when something is just “off” about the people around you. Our teachers clearly felt “off” that day and the days to follow – even though we were in rural Indiana and nowhere near the situation. I agree that tragedies tend to unite us as a group – that was very evident with the Boston Marathon bombing. Social media helped us to stay connected and informed all at the same time.

  2. smschira says:

    Great post Lacee! I talked about kids possibly seeing these images in my post as well. Like you said, even though we’re adults, the images still bother us. If someone is 14 and seeing these images, I can only imagine what they would think. I was 11 when September 11th happened and I was traumatized watching things happen on TV. Social media would have been unbearable during that time. Even broadcast news was discussing it months on end, so I think there would’ve been an endless stream of photos and status updates for a long time.

    If my loved one was injured in the bombing and I found out through social media, I would be very upset, but part of me would be a little thankful that at least I had an answer. It wouldn’t be the way I would want to find out about it, but it would give me an answer of whether that person were alive or dead. I would thank the person for posting the photo because it would give me momentary closure on the issue, but then I would kindly ask them to take it down.

    • Hi Steven –

      Thanks for reading! I don’t think images like the ones we are discussing really have an age limit – they can be disturbing and heart breaking to people of all ages. I agree that the discussion of 9/11 probably would have lasted even longer had social media been involved. That’s not to say that those events didn’t need to be discussed though – I do think it was important, to some degree, to keep the event fresh in our minds and a “chip on our shoulder” for a while. However, those images and discussions could have been unbearable to those that were directly connected to the situation.

      I agree that, while I would be upset that I was seeing the image via social media, at least I knew that person was okay (or seemed okay). It is certainly not the way I would prefer to receive news like this though.

  3. Hi Lacee & everyone,
    You youngsters LOL! I was 16, a junior in high school in southwest Florida when 9-11 happened and once everyone at school knew, TVs were on pretty much all day, at lunch and in every classroom (except for my U.S. history teacher, who turned on the TV, then turned it off and went back to our lesson. As if we could concentrate after that!) Social media definitely would have made things more complicated, immediate and perhaps scarier. However, even with the “old” media we had at the time and still have — live broadcast television — there was still the issue with graphic images. I’m pretty sure NBC and the other major networks actually had a live shot on the Twin Towers when the second plane hit, so they inadvertently took a super graphic image live on TV. And in the aftermath, newspapers published super zoomed-in photos of people jumping out of the building. So you see, the issue and ethical debate surrounding graphic images has always been with us. Social media has just sped up the process by which we can publish, distribute and disseminate these photos.

    • Hi Amanda –

      Thanks for reading! I agree that even with just television and print coverage; there were still incredibly graphic images and videos being shared. I do remember there being live coverage of the second plane and I definitely remember watching as cameras zoomed in on people jumping from the building. In fact, that’s what I was thinking about mostly when I wrote this. Can you imagine the amount of videos like this that would have been posted on social media if it was around at that time? It’s scary to think about. Ethical decisions need to be made no matter what medium you are using to communicated this information to the masses.

  4. lleithauser says:

    That photograph.. wow. From an artistic standpoint, I can appreciate just how much of the events that day were captured in a single image. But ethically, and as a media consumer, it’s just too much. I too can’t imagine seeing a photo of a loved one in that condition, especially if that was the first I had heard of their condition. I’m not sure a child would really be able to understand exactly what was happening, but I still wouldn’t want to be the one to try and explain that to them.

    Imagining September 11 in today’s terms is horrifying- really amazing question! Most of us just had to sit and wait for information to come in. There were some reports from the actual scene, but no way to share first hand accounts like there is today. I remember sitting, watching CNN, speechless. We were completely at their mercy for news, and everyone was glued to the TV. It was scary enough. I can’t imagine having access to photos via Twitter like we would today. I also think that the current media landscape made it easier to frame the events- like later villainizing a group of people that were not responsible for the attacks.

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