After the Boston Marathon bombings, many Americans took to social media to follow coverage of the attacks, and also to show support for the victims, their family and friends, and the city of Boston. In fact, just minutes after the bombings, “#PrayForBoston” was trending on Twitter. In the spirit of trying to get news out there and trying to show support for the city of Boston, many graphic photographs from the scene were shared on April 15 and the days following. Although those sharing the photos may have had good intentions, there are ethical implications to consider when sharing graphic images.
One of the images that went viral after the bombings showed a victim who lost his leg in the blast. The man has since been identified as Jeff Bauman. The photograph clearly shows Bauman’s face, so his family and friends could see it in their newsfeeds before they got any notification from Bauman himself. I couldn’t imagine finding out about my loved one in this manner.
Not only does the victim need to be taken into consideration, you also need to think about minors online and whether or not graphic images are appropriate for them to be viewing. Some may argue that if they’re online without parental supervision, they’re old enough to handle whatever content they see. Here’s my problem with that logic: Minors are going to find ways to get online without their parents knowledge, and I’m 25 and photos from Boston are hard for me to look at.
You could also make the argument that your social media followers are all adults. However, with the viral nature of social media (especially Twitter), the content you share could be seen by the world in mere minutes. If you wouldn’t want your child to see the image, I wouldn’t recommend sharing it on social media.
As much as we can all weigh in on how sharing graphic images is or isn’t ethical, I think the best point of view that we can receive is from the victim himself. One year after the attacks, Bauman was interviewed about his iconic photo. He said he wished that his parents hadn’t found out about his injuries from the photo, or seen him in that state. His mother searched for him for hours after the photo had gone viral. Bauman also said he wishes he wasn’t the face of the victims so he could recover in peace and at his own pace.
I’ve mainly been talking about the unethical nature of posting graphic photos, but Bauman points out another side to the issue. He said he’s no longer angry about the photo because the photographer was doing his job and was helping in his own way. He was showing the world the truth. He also points out that the photo isn’t about of the bombings or him being injured. The photo captures the heroes who helped save people that day.
News organizations are going to share graphic images, that’s the nature of news. Next time before you share an image, consider the people you could be impacting.