Spreading pictures of death on social media: mass habit; personal nightmare

Having a picture of an injured or killed love-one circulate online directly affects the family.

9 May 2017 | 13:32

Source: Annahar

  • By Nour Ghoussaini
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 9 May 2017 | 13:32

Having a picture of an injured or killed love-one circulate online directly affects the family.

BEIRUT: The ability to snap and share almost anything on social media has threatened privacy to a large extent, with viewer interest easily exploited for cheap clicks on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp or any other platform, while not taking any consideration toward neither the family’s feelings nor their consent. 

After car accidents, murders and suicides, many people on the scene often grab their smartphones to snap photos, directly sharing them with their online circle. This circle, in many cases, spreads to become an endless ripple of contacts that receives and shares these pictures of the deceased individual, making it viral within mere hours.

“Some people find pleasure in inflicting pain or disturbance on others, bombarding them with every painful picture or scene they run into,” psychologist Eliana Kahy told Annahar .

“Another interpretation of these people’s mindset is that they consider sharing something new and shocking with their circle an act of heroism, which in turn feeds their ego and proves their ability to get pictures of an incident before anyone else,” Kahy added.

She noted that having a picture of an injured or killed love-one circulate online can greatly affect the family and friends of the deceased, and the indirect effects on everyone who sees these pictures, may cause harm, particularly in the case of children.

A blood-soaked picture of engineering student Iyad Bou Ali, who shot himself in the head on Friday, roamed through a myriad of WhatsApp chats and groups; while the primary photographer is still unknown.

The father of the deceased, however, promises to press charges against whoever took and shared the picture once evidence is proved against them.

“I had no idea that someone took a picture of the incident, for if I had, there’s no way I would’ve let it be shared with anyone else,” expressed Nabil Abou Ali, father of the deceased young man.

“This is a private family tragedy, and no one has the right to interfere in neither taking nor spreading pictures of our beloved son in such an awful prospect, and I will hold everyone accountable for publishing or sharing the picture,” Bou Ali assured.

According to the Internal Security Forces (ISF), “once parents of the deceased file a lawsuit against the publisher of such pictures or videos, we begin investigating the case and tracking the main source of sharing and publishing.”

“We try to contact the social media platform to delete all the shared pictures and videos, and continue to investigate till we reach the main source,” the source at the ISF told Annahar.

This, however, is just one incident of several recent cases.

Following Bou Ali’s suicide, a video showing a woman – 24-year-old Sara Sleiman – being fatally shot outside a nightclub in the Bekaa city of Zahle, went viral on the Internet.

Waref Sleiman, Lebanese activist and a distant friend of the deceased woman told Annahar that “sharing such intimate moments on the Internet can be in many cases unreasonable and very harmful to the deceased person’s beloved,” adding, “Yet in this case, this video is first of all not very graphically intense since it was taken from a far and wide angle, but also tends to raise public awareness of unauthorized gun-ownership and distribution.”

Such videos represent a classical dilemma in journalism, where the publishers and journalists have to compare the public’s right to know versus individual privacy, taking into consideration whether the picture or video are newsworthy enough to invade such a private and intimate moment of death, according to Jad Melki, chairperson of the Department of Communication Arts at the Lebanese American University and founder of the Media Digital Literacy Academy in Beirut (MDLAB).

‘"The viral sharing risks a sense of emptiness, creating a ‘numbing’ effect, in a perverse and distant mechanism to feed a form of slacktivism -- a kind of ‘armchair’ activism, which does not require great effort or commitment and involvement,” according to a study published by the European University Institute. 

The study explains that viral sharing has become some sort of entertainment, “we cannot ignore the banality of the horror included in the ‘save image’ and ‘share’ command. They are inevitable dynamics which at least one must be aware of. First the photo of the dead child or adult is shared, five minutes later something about a favorite soccer team, 10 minutes later a joke.”

Echoing this earlier point, Melki explained that “bombarding people with an overdose of intense blood-soaked graphical content might lead to a stage called compassion fatigue, where people become sick of seeing such pictures and stop reacting to it.”

 “Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media messages. Therefore, it tends to focus a lot on teaching people the ethics of publishing online material, making them aware of the risk of invading people’s privacy and putting themselves legally at stake,” he added, emphasizing that it helps online users think critically about the content in hand before sharing it.

“The need for developing a new clear media law that accurately tackles social media platforms and penalties of electronically violating human rights and invading their privacy,” said Judge Fawzi Khamis, in a phone interview with Annahar.

Another legal expert mirrored Khamis’s thoughts and stressed that “sharing content of deceased people without their families’ consent is a violation of privacy, yet will not be considered as valid evidence in court without a new electronic media law.”

Perhaps Suzanne Moore, widely-read columnist for the UK’s Guardian newspaper, phrased it best when she said that making such images and videos common devalues the currency of shared humanity, stressing that “we do not respect those living in awful conflict by disrespecting their dead. Stop.”


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