Is sharing graphic photos ethical? Boston bombings victim weighs in

social media, ethics, graphic images, Jeff Bauman, Boston Marathon bombingsAfter 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.

social media, ethics, graphic images, Jeff Bauman, Boston Marathon bombings

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.

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Social media and the Boston bombings

I was at work when bombs exploded in the streets of Boston during the city’s infamous marathon. As a runner myself, I had so many questions, but without access to a TV, I turned to Twitter for answers and updates. I wasn’t the only American who logged into a social media account for coverage on the Boston Marathon bombings. According to the Pew Research Center, a quarter of Americans received their information about the bombings from social media.

Social media is a great tool for news seekers, but it also has rapidly increased the flow of information, which can lead to more inaccuracies by news agencies online. Even CNN tweeted inaccurate information after the attacks on Boston. It’s no surprise that rapidly evolving situations can also lead to ethical concerns.

It was the Boston Marathon bombings that forced me to reevaluate the content that I share on social media. After the attacks, I retweeted a photo of a victim that included a heart-wrenching story. I later discovered that this information was completely made up. As sad as it is, there are people who try to capitalize on tragedies. If you’re going to share information that you find on social media, it’s best to make sure that it comes from a reliable source. Even reliable sources get it wrong sometimes, so do your own investigating before you share any content on social media.

Several broadcasters and companies were blamed for trying to capitalize on the Boston tragedy. One broadcaster posted a photo of one of the victims in his hospital bed on Facebook. He then asked his followers to “like” the photo to wish the boy a speedy recovery. Because I don’t know the broadcaster or his relationship to the victim, I can’t accurately speculate on his motive for posting the photo. If the post was his way of getting page likes, it’s obviously unethical. However, his post could have been to raise the boys spirits and to raise awareness (money) to help the victim. Only he knows his true intentions.

Ford also got put into the spotlight after the attacks. The car company posted the following image:

Boston Marathon bombings, social media, ethics, Ford

Many people scolded the company for using a tragedy to promote products. Once again, without being the one making decisions for Ford, I can’t really speculate on their intent. I think it would have been in better taste if the company had dropped the Ford logo in the corner and used an image of real first responders on the scene in Boston. This approach would have made it seem less like an advertisement, and more like a genuine thank you.