Introducing Rachel Appleby

Posted by on Jan 31, 2014 in Journalism, Social Media | No Comments

With great social power, also comes great social responsibility.

“photographs of human suffering no longer move the public… repeated exposure to photographed atrocities habituates us to horror, leading us to view even the most graphic images as ‘just pictures.’” -Susan Sontag.

 Is there a such thing as too much information  during a disaster or crisis, Twitter and other social media can provide an instant view of conditions on the ground. This information can be more specific and timely than official data from aid agencies or relief organisations. But not all of this massive information is useful, and the sheer volume can be overwhelming. The debate about publishing graphic images of a event and pondering what it means for photojournalism and for the the role of the mainstream media in the 21st century, when the ubiquity of camera phones, social media and always-on Internet connections means that images often graphic and disturbing ones spread with terrifying speed.
As well as offering untold help during times of need, the digital age can cause new problems during emergencies. Rumour and misinformation can spread like wild fire. During the London Riots of 2011, online rumours gained prominence, they claimed the London Eye was on fire, that a zoo tiger was on the loose in Primrose Hill, that army tanks had been deployed in Bank and that some yoofs in Tottenham had broken into a McDonalds to start cooking up Big Macs to feed their looting exploits.
The debate over the publication of graphic images is as old as photography itself. Susan Sontag discussed it extensively in On Photography, and the subject has been key to the question of the ethics of photojournalism as a profession. The question of balancing the right to privacy and dignity of people injured with the public interest of reporting those events, it’s ultimately a subjective one and it’s perhaps one that no one’s managed to answer definitively. In the past, when control over the distribution of images was limited to news agencies and whoever published their photos, some sort of editorial control was possible. Certain events are defined as much by the absence of imagery as its presence.
As in many areas, it was September 11 that represented a real change on this front: it took place in an era before YouTube and Twitter, but still, it corresponded with the growing ubiquity of digital photography and widespread internet connections. its that it was “the most photographed breaking news event in human history, witnessed on television and the Internet that day by an estimated two billion people — a third of the human race” Even so, there was a huge debate at the time over whether to publish images like the falling man which captured an office worker jumping from one of the stricken World Trade Center towers. That isn’t a luxury that anyone has these days, because in the 21st century, it’s largely a redundant debate, because graphic images will proliferate whether they’re published in the newspaper or not.

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