Thursday, 11 August 2016

A Share Too Far?: Desensitization & Social Media

There's been no shortage of atrocities in the world in recent years.

The horror is seemingly never ending - it seems like every day there is another massacre, another attack, another report of tragedy.

At one time, in order to hear about these events in the world, we would have needed to turn on the news channels or log onto a news website - but not anymore. 

In the digital age, the news finds us - most of us are social media users these days and it's become impossible to log on to Facebook or Twitter without hearing about the trending news stories.

And that's fine - it's natural to discuss current affairs of course, and when tragedy strikes people struggle to find an outlet for their grief and sadness, and so expressing it via a Facebook status or Tweet can be the only way they have to do that.

But lately I've noticed a shift in how these events are reported - or in how I'm finding out about them at least - and I'm not ok with it.

The over-sharing of victims final moments, graphic images of bodies and crime scenes, even live action videos depicting these scenes of horror have become something that I'm seeing across social media on a regular basis - all of them shared along with the usual crying face emoji of course but sometimes I wonder what the reasoning behind these shares is .

Sometimes I wonder if people even genuinely care, or if it's just a competition to see who can share the most tragic story, the most gruesome or heart wrenching image - in fact to be totally honest sometimes I wonder if people aren't even getting some kind of strange kick out of it.

This weekend on my Facebook timeline, I noticed a guy I went to school with share a status along the lines of "If one more person on my friends list shares one of these horrible beheading videos, I'm going to kick off" - this is a guy who is pretty tough, not the kind of person who is easily offended - so to see HIM getting fed up of the situation, I knew It wasn't all in my mind.

The responses on his status included a friend saying "Mate I just share them to show how horrible the world is these days..." - seriously? Where is the logic in that?

Yes, horrible things DO happen in the world and they always have - but is forcing the visual of these things onto happen going to make the world a nicer place somehow?! 

Last month, I read all about the victims of the Orlando shootings on Facebook - I logged on to my account that morning without having heard about what happened and within seconds of scrolling down my newsfeed I was not only suddenly aware of the situation but I had been shown the intimate details of the last emotional and fearful text messages sent by a victim to his mother, the reaction of parents waiting outside the nightclub for news of their children and a video of one of the victims dancing seconds before being gunned down.

Last week, I logged on to Facebook and immediately learned of the Nice attack via statuses sharing news headlines - accompanied by the image of a very small covered-up dead body on the ground next to a child's doll.

And again last week, I heard via Twitter about the Munich shootings and within moments I'd stumbled across two live action videos of the attack, and a very graphic image of a dead body laying on the ground in a pool of blood.

That dead boys face was not pixelated, his body not covered - he was laying on the ground, bleeding out, eyes open - dead.

Splashed across the internet for all the world to see.

What first disturbed me about that image was the fact that people had deemed it acceptable to share across social media - a throw away gesture, as though it was nothing - seemingly without thought for how it might affect or trigger those who then stumble across it, or - more importantly - whether the victim and his family would have wished for that image to be shared with the world.

Or whether that boy had even yet been identified, and his family informed of the terrible news.

Infact - as I later read - that boy's family members had not managed to locate him for HOURS after the shooting, his parents gave desperate interviews to news reporters stating that they didn't know if he was dead or alive - but other family members had already seen those gruesome images of his body, and thankfully shielded the parents from them - those relatives knew his fate long before it was confirmed.

Can you imagine that?

The world learning of your child's death via graphic images of his bloodied body splashed all over social media before you even know he's gone?

Is that really something that we consider acceptable now?

When I thought about it more, I became even more disturbed by the fact that there was more than one photograph of that boy - there were two or three taken from various angles - meaning that more than one person had deemed it acceptable to whip out their phone and snap a photo of a victim lying dead on the ground.  

How do we live in a world where people's reaction when faced with the body of a young boy gunned down outside a McDonald's is to take a photograph?

Not recoil in horror, not run away in fear, not weep in despair - but to get out their phone and snap a photograph - is there a word for that now?! What would we call those...dea-lfies?! Are they a "thing" in modern life?!

Under no circumstances is this something that it should ever be considered acceptable to do.

Let alone to then upload it to the internet without a thought....and for others to then see fit to share it far and wide.

These are not throw away photographs for likes and shares - these are real people, in real and terrifying situations.

I fear that we have all become so desensitized to the horrors of the world we live in that we no longer understand where the line is with regards to what we share on social media.

It seems that there is no limit to how graphic we want our news images to be, how much raw human suffering we want to hear about. 

It seems it's no longer enough to simply report on the facts - "Shooting occurred in x place, x many people killed and injured" - now we need the intimate details, the family reactions, the last dying messages and words. We need the HORROR.

Well personally I am sick of seeing these heartless and insensitive images passed off as "poignant" or "Haunting" or any other fancy word to try to cover up what they actually are - because what they are is vulgar, crass and completely unnecessary.

Surely what has happened during these recent atrocities is heart breaking enough without the need to show the discarded toys of the dead children, the dying messages begging for help that will never come, the worst moments of a parents life as they learn of the death of their child played out for all to see...

These things do not help anybody and I'm sorry but when I see the countless statuses sharing these graphic images and news reports accompanied by the obligatory sad face emoji, it just makes me feel a bit sick. 

Because WHY are you doing that? What's the purpose?

Why do those things need to be shared for the world to see? Have you given any thought to the human being involved in that image and whether they or their loved ones would wish for the world to see this?

I can't help but feel that it cheapens the importance and magnitude of these events. That each one of them shared contributes to desensitizing us all that little bit further. That it makes it all just another sad Facebook share. 

There is no privacy anymore for the dead and their families. It's all public property. 

It's all there for us to read and share along with the standard "Heartbreaking *sob*" caption before we go off to eat our dinner and forget about it....

But these are not throw away moments worthy of nothing but a quick Facebook share - this is not Lady Gaga's latest crazy outfit or Jennifer Anistons fictional baby bump - this is someone's child - their whole world -  lying dead on the ground. 

I know the feeling of needing to do something to show that you care - to express the grief and horror and outrage and sympathy -  I get that - but a quick Facebook share and a sad face emoji can't be it.

These are real people's lives and deaths and they deserve more respect than that, surely.

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