To Post or Not to Post: The Dilemma of Violent Photos


The assignment for this week asked us to examine to ethical implications of using graphic photos in an era of media dominated by digital and online platforms.  When examining these implications, I feel there are two main considerations to maintain in regards to the ethics:  de-sensitivity and privacy. 


If we were to make graphic photos in regards to violence more common, one would have to consider the human sensitivity element first.  What I mean by that is the fact that showing these photos can affect sensitivity in a couple different ways.  First, people can become de-sensitized to this violence.  Seeing violence at the level of someone losing a leg after the Boston Bombing, for example, could be the “trigger” that pushes them over the limit and allows them to think violence isn’t as bad as they thought it was when the image was considered taboo.  Especially when thinking about young children having access to these photos before they have fully developed the difference between right and wrong.  However, on the other hand, by exposing people to this violence, perhaps they can become more aware and demand more accountability from our elected officials before creating violence of our own.  I mentioned the example of drone strikes in the US and how we don’t typically SEE the collateral damage we create when innocent civilians are killed.  It’s easier to not be concerned with these people when they are a blurb in an article compared to actually having to see the carnage.


Privacy is the other ethical implication I will discuss in regards to this concept and can be just as complicated as the first.  On the one hand, I think putting these photos out creates an awareness that allows the viewer to really accept the harshness of these situations.   On the other, putting these photos out can lead to a privacy breach that can hurt the victim even more.  Before I began writing this piece, I thought I would present the idea of making these photos anonymous by blurring out the person’s face if it is in the shot.  Now, I am not so sure I like that idea because keeping the photo private doesn’t make it “real” to the viewer, potentially just further de-sensitizing them to the violence.  Then I thought about a “waiver” of some sort that must be signed in order to release the image just like on TV, but we will not always be able to get that waiver signed in traumatic situations.  So for now, I think I will say it depends on the situation but that we should fault on the side of privacy. 

Which side of sensitivity do you see being the more likely?  Creating people more comfortable and accepting with violence or less?

What trauma cases can you think of where a person’s face being in a photo is a bad idea?  A good idea?


One thought on “To Post or Not to Post: The Dilemma of Violent Photos

  1. Hi Jake,
    I think in some ways, we have become desensitized to violence, like in video games and in TV shows because it a) it is not real b) it is so prevalent. However, I don’t think many of us are desensitized to real violence. For a response on Lacee’s blog, I did a video search because I was pretty sure that most major news networks had taken the second plane hitting the Twin Towers on 9-11 live, inadvertently. Yet I could not bring myself to watch any of the videos I found because I saw it the first time around and clearly remember the horror of seeing it. I think now, most news organizations don’t really re-air that footage that was taken live the first time around because people don’t really want to relive that graphic part of the tragedy over again. I think each traumatic photo must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and the news organization has to weigh the costs and benefits to airing/publishing a graphic photo.

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