Graphic Images of The Boston Bombing

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I think our nature inherent curiosity as humans is what drives sensationalistic journalism, particularly after tragedies, such as the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, 2013. It seems as though we were all connected to that day, whether we were there or knew someone who was, or just connected as concerned, scared people. However we were connected, the need to grieve and understand is strong in each of us.

For those of us who were not there, social media and newscasts provided the details of the day as they unfolded. I specifically remember using the hashtag #BostonStrong to monitor the events of the day and receive information as it was released. This hashtag was not only used by news outlets, but by concerned citizens and people who were actually in attendance. I think it goes without saying that many of the pictures shared after the bombings were horrific, startling, upsetting, and graphic.

Not only were individuals sharing images of the massacre, but national news outlets were also retweeting and sharing the images, both online, and on television. This, in my eyes, is unethical for various reasons. For one, it is sensitive material involving real people (who I am sure did not sign a waiver in their time of despair allowing their image to be streamed across the internet). What if the family of the injured only discovered it because they saw it on Twitter? These events are traumatic on so many levels, and in this case, citizen and organized journalism truly added to the trauma.

If you were severely injured after a tragic and horrendous incident, would you want your picture to go viral? Should the photographed person have a say before they are the “face” of a specific tragedy?

I personally would never want my image shared without my written consent – particularly in a situation like the aftermath of a bombing. The mistakes made in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing are plentiful, yet I worry that these are going to be real, constant issues in journalism as we move forward.

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6 thoughts on “Graphic Images of The Boston Bombing

  1. I totally agree with your perspective Lesley. I too, would not want to be the “poster child” for a tragic situation. I can’t imagine anyone would. I know many journalists feel that showing these type of images not only enhances a story but share the “real” truth of what has happened. I get that, but I agree sharing an image without a person’s consent is wrong, even if it is in a public setting. Social media gives so many of us power, but that power can be dangerous. With the click of a mouse we can either help disseminate inaccurate information or violate someone’s privacy. When it comes down to it, we all need to take more responsibility. Whether we are professional journalists, citizen journalists, or innocent bystanders. We need to remember social media is about being real and making real connections, it’s not about sensationalizing a tragedy. You can learn about a situation and connect with the victims (on some level) without seeing graphic images.

    1. I agree. Many victims of the Boston Marathon bombings were very vocal after the tragedy, with many becoming activists for amputees and bombing survivors in general. Those are the people who should share their story – the ones who choose to do so. Not someone who had their photograph taken without consent and then distributed across the world via the internet.

  2. Great post, Lesley. I completely agree with all that you said. If I was the person in the photograph, I’m not sure I’d want that to be the photo circulating of me. Also images now live forever. If someone wasn’t ok with it, there’s no way to get it completely erased. The image will live on forever. I also wouldn’t want that happening to someone I know. It would haunt me to see a graphic image of a friend or family member go viral.

    If a person was trying to move on from the situation that happened but every time someone googled their name those images kept coming up, I’m not sure they’d want to deal with that type of situation. It would be great if the person photographed had a say but things more way too quickly for that now. I’m sure there’s a journalistic standard that is protecting news organizations and the images they chose.

    1. You bring up a good point about how the images can prevent people from moving on from the incident. I never thought of that, but I am sure for many of the people who were present, PTSD is a real issue. I know that working through something like that would not be easy if a photo of the traumatic time was forever haunting you. Great feedback!

  3. Great post Lesley! Your view on getting written consent for these images to be used is interesting. As a journalist, specifically in my photojournalism class, I was taught that getting verbal consent from the subject of the photo was enough to use it. Obviously some of these journalists and citizen journalists did neither. I would not want the family of the victim, or the actual victim to see the photo and be horrified that it was used without their permission. I would also not want my photo used at all if I was one of the injured victims in this tragedy. Every person should at least have a say in whether their pictures are used in a tragedy like this, whether it’s verbal or written.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. As someone who literally has zero journalism experience and outside of this grad school program, has never even taken a journalism class – I really value what those of you who are in the know have to add to my posts. I can only speak from the side of the reader, which can sometimes be a little hard on the journalists.

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