Ethical Implications of Graphic Images

The Boston Bombings brought along many images of people who were either killed or seriously injured in the blasts. Many of these images were placed in online articles with a disclaimer that these images were graphic and people should look at their own risk. But when it comes to social media, there sometimes is no disclaimer. Even if there is a warning in the text of the post, often times the audience scrolls to the image before they have a chance to read the warning. I honestly don’t see anything good that can come from posting graphic photos from the Boston Bombings on social media.

Images that end up in various news feeds don’t have age filters on them. Even if a teen is old enough to have Facebook or Twitter,  they may not be mature enough to handle images of death or gruesome injuries. Obviously I don’t think the teens would be seeking out images of this nature, so I believe it is the responsibility of the person who is posting them to consider all the ways that it could upset the audience if he or she did post them.

As I mentioned, instead of posting the image directly to social media, they could post the article with the disclaimer, to give people a choice of whether they want to see the images or not. This could not only shield minors from viewing the images, but it would protect friends and family members of the victims from having to involuntarily see images that might bring back painful memories. Finally, if members of the audience have an uneasy stomach or can’t handle any type of blood or gore, the wall of the link would shield them from the potential of getting sick.

If someone were to post graphic images from the Boston Bombings on social media for everyone to see, some could view that as the person wanting attention or trying to shock the audience rather than doing something good. With a tragedy so widely publicized as this, people understand the extent of the damage without having to see it on social media. If people wanted to donate their time or blood to help victims, they could do that without a graphic image persuading them.

Finally, if a victim of the tragedy was injured and one of their photos was put on social media without their permission, there could be serious ethical concerns. Personal privacy vs. public interest would certainly be one of the main arguments. The victim may not want to be remembered forever as “the person who survived the Boston Bombings” and wouldn’t want to be looked on with pity for the rest of his or her life. If their photo was placed on social media and went viral, there’s a good chance that the person would never be able to break their public association with the event.



4 thoughts on “Ethical Implications of Graphic Images

  1. I had very similar opinions on this, Steven. I really think in situations as horrific as the Boston Bombings were, the victims respect has to be put first. As you said, there needs to be consent from whoever’s graphic picture is being published, therefore you avoid any unethical approaches. I also like to think that warnings about these graphic images is one of the best methods. If you tell your audience what they are going to see should be viewed “at their own risk,” it deflects most, if not all liability that comes with posting things like this. Disclaimers are a must in crisis visuals, it just protects the public interest in my opinion.

    • I actually went down a similar theme with the idea of waivers, but I also had to correct myself to an extent because of the fact that getting that waiver may not always be possible in the moment. So does that mean we shouldn’t show the pictures that we don’t have a waiver for? Even if they can be “helpful”? I also liked the idea of warnings before posting and took that to the point of having certain platforms that are known for their unapologetic photos. If there are certain places you can go to get the “gritty” photos, than at least the user can choose whether they want to go to those places. Great points all!

      • Thanks for the comment Jake! In my mind you don’t actually need the written consent for it to be ethical, only a verbal consent. If you can’t get a verbal consent, the picture should not be shown. I honestly think there are no helpful pictures of injured people, only sensational pictures.

    • Thanks for the comment Gavin! I think warning posts deflect all of the liability because there was proper notice, especially if a warning was in multiple places before the photo could be seen.

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