Last Friday, a day after the attack in Nice (which at the time I’m writing this, already feels like a few months ago…rather than 7 days.) the CBC published a thought-provoking article exploring what the effects of graphic images have on the public. Further than just one’s psyche, they explore the impressions graphic images actually have on the media industry and what the value is in sharing these images. The idea of this had me hooked, and I was immediately reminded of (now fairly well known) case studies of graphic images and whether or not they should be censored. Most notably, we remember the Falling Man from the 9/11 terror attacks, and how it was published on the front day of the New York Times the very next day.
Without getting into too much detail, this became a case study for media professionals everywhere simply because it was a “game-time” decision to run the photograph, subsequently turning the heads of the nation, especially those of families whose wounds were as fresh as they ever would be. Prior to and since then, western media has been on a fairly good run of censoring graphic or non-family-friendly material from media outlets. Granted, the implementation of technologies like time-delays on live TV made censorship efforts easier throughout the years, but it still begs a number of questions. Have we been doing it right? Are we robbing people of the truth and cutting out the full scale reality of the story?
Enter social media.
We’re all aware of the instantaneous updates social media allows for when breaking news occurs. In total honesty, this is not going to be a blog bashing social media for that reason—in fact it’s going to be quite the opposite. Considering that my most easily recalled examples happen to be the positive ones like the creation of Facebook Saftey Checks, Live tweeting attacks censored by media and government, and constant police shootings in the USA, which provide a real-time and potentially unbiased view (such as but is not limited to, Alton Sterling). All of these examples, despite some include shocking content matter, proved to have an undeniable impact on the dissemination of media in terms of frequency, timeliness and global reach. Something that was unimaginable a mere 10 years ago—and giving credit where credit is due, it is a huge advancement for social media given Facebooks compared to 10 years ago when it was just an online tool for picking up Harvard sorority girls.
The gift and curse is that these technologies have given us a front row seat to dramatic incidents. With all this technology and censorship…we arrive at another problem. There is no censoring social media. Take this Facebook live-stream shooting for example, was the gang violence in here really worth being spread around the world? Does it offer any value to deterring those from joining gangs, or does it help provide an entertainment factor for those who may already be too desensitized to real life violence.
That, I believe, is the true issue with uncensored media. The fact that I can log onto Twitter or Facebook and watch a man being shot in full focus is definitely disturbing, but what does it say for our everyday lives that watching that no longer shocks me in the slightest. In fact, it almost seems (with no disrespect for the lives of others intended)…mundane in today’s world. That is to say, it is almost expected, not surprising, part of the routine. All of that is a pretty sickening thought. As CBC put it, it’s hard to scroll through Facebook at work or with kids when you’re anticipating seeing a cute dog or your friends at a highly-rated restaurant…but instead you get images of a man being shot repeatedly in the chest or people running for their lives through streets and alleyways.
Again, I am torn to think that maybe the desensitization humans attribute towards media play apart in our violent tendencies. In other words, are some of us incapable as human beings to distinguish when entertainment violence (watching a Die hard movie) and real life violence (war, gang culture) are damaging or not?
It’s a heck of a lot harder to censor when the media is in the hands of the public rather than the opposite.
Yes, there is a very real possibility that someone who already has a real violent persona or perhaps a mental illness may watch a real news story be motivated to attack innocent people as well; it doesn’t always have to be fake. But, logic dictates that to be entertained by high-speed car chases, reckless behavior and explosion…and to actually harm human beings should be different worlds
I think more attention needs to be given to devising a plan to stop desensitization. The harsh reality is it takes effort to sit back after watching violent news images or videos and remembering that this happened to someone like you. What’s worse is that these reflections have almost become cliché. To think or say “this was a loved one, someone you’d pass by on the street or sit next to on the bus” have to become desensitized statements; stripped of the emotions which make them powerful and earnest.
In short, there are a lot of attempts to put protocols in place…but without some real totalitarian control (which would end up doing more to set us back then bring us forward), I don’t see it being possible to filter everything that is not “family-friendly” out of it. It’s a heck of a lot harder to censor when the media is in the hands of the public rather than the opposite.