Dead Victim Photos on Social Media Provoke Controversy
No warning appeared on Twitter after applying sensitivity warning. This screenshot taken from an iPad, logged in with daughter's account.
CREDIT: Instagram: @ryanstryin
Blood spilling across the sidewalk from the head of a downed and presumably dead man was posted on Instagram within minutes of this morning's shooting in front of the Empire State Building in New York City. Social media reaction was as swift as it was divided over the decision to post such graphic images.
Instagram user ryanstryin posted the image, but said he waited until a New York police officer partially blocked his view.
"Was this in poor taste?" he wrote. "I don't think so... If I have to live here, I can document it however I please."
Some commenters agreed, such as mrserialx who said, "People need to grow up, this IS life... not the Nerf-wrapped nonsense on tv."
But others had a different view, summed up by this comment from btexra, "IMO not cool to post this, no matter if it's your reality or not, poor taste & decision."
But the mainstream media had no qualms. In the comments section on his Intagram page, ryanstryin received requests from ABC, the Associated Press and Reuters asking permission to reuse the photo.
Nor was CBS News deterred. CBS intern Harrison Golden tweeted a close, unobstructed photo of the deceased victim that was attributed to a Gawker reader. His face had been blurred. But a clear photo of his face was posted by Tumblr user r-rapids.
Traditional news outlets have stuck to the rule that photos that could be used to identify a deceased person should not be released until family members of the victim have been notified. But even journalists feel the pressure to post graphic photos of a crime scene as quickly as possible.
This morning on Twitter, Ann Curry, a news anchor at NBC, warned Daniel Oakley, "Daniel, careful re: pictures as families cannot have been notified this quickly." Daniel's response, "You know better than I would. Will do." Oakley posted the Instagram photo on Twitter with the advisory "Not for the faint at heart" before receiving the warning from Curry. Oakley is a digital strategist at Taylor Global, who works at the Empire State Building.
Instagram and Tumblr have similar policies regarding photos that show "extreme violence and gore." Both social outlets caution against sharing such images and reserve the right to remove images and disable accounts. Twitter has a more detailed policy for depictions of violence.
Twitter asks users to consider applying the account setting, "Mark my media as containing sensitive content." Images that have been marked as containing sensitive content will have a warning message that a viewer must click through before viewing the image. We saw no such warnings. And one of the most popular photos for the hashtag #ESB showed two victims on the ground behind police lines.