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Shock Value

Every so often, a particularly emotive and gruesome topic makes it’s way to our attention via social media. Most recently, images of drowned refugees were shared to highlight the plight of people seeking asylum in Europe (and often dying in their hundreds). A while back there was the story of the Planned Parenthood. Animal cruelty and farm murders are perennial favourites to share in graphic detail.

Let me be clear – these are all topics worthy of discussion, and raising awareness of them is a noble act. But the question arises whether posting shocking images on social media – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – is the right way to go about communicating an issue.

I understand the instinct – when the subject matter is deeply disturbing, we do not want feel as if we are minimizing the problem by self-censoring. Or perhaps we genuinely feel that a shocking image might convey a message and spur people to action in a way that simple words would not.

First, let’s first remember that the age restriction on many social media, and certainly Facebook and Twitter, is fairly low – thirteen. I think we can agree that pictures of dead children washed up on a beach (and other gory topics) are not something children should ideally be exposed to without warning. Not that I’m recommending sheltering our kids, but I’m pretty confident that actual dead people is R18 and not PG13.

Second, I am of the opinion that surprising people with a shocking image(while they’re eating tea and a rusk) is a good way to get them annoyed at you, and thus hostile to your cause. Those who are already aware of and sympathetic to your cause probably won’t be shocked, and will probably support you posting, but they don’t need to be swayed. You may feel that people are not justified in being offended by a worthwhile cause, but, if your purpose is to bring about change, then it’s best to speak in a way that your audience will respond well to.

Some will argue that Facebook is not the place for discussing current affairs anyway. I don’t support censorship, and I therefore disagree. My personal pet peeve, apart from Farmville invitations, is vague passive aggressive posts, but I support their right to exist. So I’m not suggesting you don’t post about the topics you are passionate about. Just consider that your shocking images probably won’t garner the sort of reaction that benefits your cause.

 

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Octavo 10 September 2015, 8:48 am

    I find the double-standards the most troubling factor. It’s fine to post the most gruesome images of violence and death, but show a bit of boob the walls come down on you.

    • Chris 10 September 2015, 9:21 am

      ’tis an interesting phenomenon indeed…or a picture of breastfeeding is offensive, but a scantily glad model in the most explicit of poses is not, provided her nipples are covered.

      Though you raise a distinction well worth highlighting and which I failed to mention explicitly…healthy sexuality, and breastfeeding (amongst other topics) are frequently shocking but shouldn’t be, and so posting them makes sense even if you offend people – a valuable purpose of posting them is to de-sensitize.

      But death, gore and cruelty should remain shocking – posting them casually de-sensitizes topics that shouldn’t be de-sensitized.

  • elmari 10 September 2015, 3:14 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with you. A shocking image, makes me not want to “like” or “share” or even “donate” but a positive image of what has been changing and what is being done right, that encourages me to “share”, “like”, “tag” and “donate”. But perhaps I am one of the few.

  • pebo 10 September 2015, 3:32 pm

    I agree, but only because from experience I’ve come to realize that people don’t really want to know the truth; they want to live in a bubble where they can remain happy. I find this a little selfish, but at the same time I understand – we all do it from time to time. Life is stressful enough as it is. The problem is, whether we look at these images or not, the immense suffering of others are still continuing. By not looking at it, who are you really helping other than yourself momentarily? People need to make a stand together and rather stop the cruelty instead of trying to stop the images. Posting gruesome imagery may be annoying to some people which clearly has the opposite effect of the initial intention of such post, but perhaps the next time you see a post like this try to see it from the OP’s point of view or better yet from the one(s) in the picture, then politely inform the OP that there are better ways to bring their point across which may be more effective and help them to stand up for what is right.

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