Handling Graphic Content on the Social Web
This summer saw the on-camera slayings of two TV journalists in Virginia, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, and the photo of a young Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, washed up dead on a Turkish beach. This imagery added to an already bloated cache of relatively recent atrocities, from recorded beheadings at the hands of ISIS to police shootings caught on tape in the US. With so much violence spinning through our newsfeeds, it’s easy to feel as though media coverage of catastrophic events is only increasing. Suddenly, the world seems more gruesome. Yet experts say this isn’t the case (citing, for example, the spread of unsettling images from World War II and the Civil Rights movement). In fact, many signs suggest the world is actually a more peaceful place. What has changed is technology.
Viewers have more opportunities—some of them unavoidable—to stumble onto graphic content. This shift demands serious attention from news organizations. That’s compounded by the potential for psychological harm to journalists, whose jobs require them to work, sometimes extensively, with traumatic material. The answers aren’t simple, but the problems are clear. A panel of experts explored this issue in a discussion titled “Death and the Social Web,” hosted this week by Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.