Does UGC Lead to PTSD?

Journalists working with a steady stream of uncensored violent imagery generated by the public are at increased risk of adverse psychological consequences, according to research published yesterday in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Open. The study of journalists and user-generated content, led by psychiatrist Anthony Feinstein, MD of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, finds that frequent, repetitive viewing of violent news-related video and other media raises news professionals’ vulnerability to a range of psychological injury, including anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Media workers’ exposure to graphic violence, though indirect, is a vital “determinant of psychopathology,” according to Feinstein and his team of researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, who studied the responses of 116 journalists working with user-generated content from three international newsrooms.

Feinstein’s research – the first to explore the impact of user – generated content on news professionals - also suggests that the frequency of journalists’ viewing of distressing user-generated imagery is more emotionally consequential than the duration of their exposure.

As the Feinstein study notes, many newsrooms worldwide have established teams charged with sifting through and editing raw footage as it is submitted in real time. Though these journalists often sit in newsrooms far away from conflict or crisis zones, much of the content they are exposed to is “deemed too shocking to be shown to audiences.” And many of the news professionals chosen for UGC content-review teams, the study notes, are journalists with little experience to prepare them for often brutal content.

“Given that good journalism depends on healthy journalists, news organizations will need to look anew at what can be done to offset the risks,” said Feinstein, the author of several pioneering studies of war correspondents.  “Reducing the frequency of exposure may be one way to go.”

Click here for a Dart Center tip sheet on visual journalism tactics, and click here for Donna DeCesare’s video presentation “Witnessing and Picturing Violence.”