Tragedy and social media

Yesterday, we all reacted with horror and shock as the bombs exploded near the finish line at the Boston Marathon. It was the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Even now, I’m staring at the blinking cursor trying to find the words to express how I feel. The truth is there are no words that can describe the myriad of emotions one goes through when one’s own country is attacked, whether by domestic terrorists or international terrorists.

My purpose with this blog is not to speculate about why or how the bombings were carried out, though. This is about how disturbingly desensitized we as a society have become when people are killed in such public ways. It was horrible for me to scroll through my news feed on Facebook yesterday, looking for updates on my friends who were still missing, and instead seeing photos of mutilated, mangled flesh and bone ripped from human bodies. People posted these things over and over again with captions like, “OMG!” and, “What happened at the marathon today!” I’m used to people posting horrible things on Facebook for the shock factor, so I looked away and went to Tumblr instead. Tumblr is the most mindless place of entertainment, or so I thought, but I couldn’t scroll more than five or six posts without seeing more horrifying photos of the same variety. At least on Twitter you can’t see an image without deliberately clicking a link on the tweet. But the same things were happening over there too.

My initial response was outrage on behalf of the people actually trying to survive and overcome in Boston yesterday evening. Many of the posts were like directing attention to what the bombing did to bodies in a sensationalized kind of way. I posted on all of my social media outlets the following: “Please stop reposting pictures of mutilated bombing victims. It does nothing but incite hysteria and violate the privacy of the victims in their horrifying struggle to survive. Let the authorities sort out who did this. As citizens, focus on the missing and the wounded in helpful ways instead of sensationalized ways. Pray for them, give blood, etc. Don’t gossip. It’s not helping anything at all.” Truthfully, I don’t quite know why I take stands the way I do. It’s not like I change the minds of the people doing these things, but I still feel a responsibility to voice the other side.

I went to bed last night and, lying in the silent darkness, felt the jitters all too familiar in my life set in right away. All night, I had nightmares about scrolling through my computer and seeing nothing but a specific man and what was left of his mangled legs. His ashen, shell-shocked face is burned into my mind because of all the people passing around the photo on social media. I’m still a mess, and, in checking in with other people like me, they are messes as well because of the inability to go on any social media without being forced to look at the carnage.

It can be argued that people have the right to post whatever they choose on social media. That’s true. Everyone has First Amendment rights. It can also be argued by some that people need to see the reality of what happened to understand it and, according to some, understand why revenge is necessary. I disagree with those ideas, though.

We, as a society, have become incredibly desensitized to the horror of these things. This generation lost its innocence the morning of September 11, 2001, as we all watched human beings on live television jump from 70, 80, and 90 stories high to their deaths on Manhattan streets below rather than suffer slower deaths in the fires. Since then, the media coverage of such catastrophes has become so uncensored that people didn’t think twice yesterday about posting photos of people with limbs blown apart in the Boston Marathon bombings. The loss of innocence in society is reflected in the media coverage and a lack of thought for replaying blood and gore over and over again.

While it is the responsibility of news outlets to accurately report these events, I don’t feel that people in general are being responsible about the spread of these types of photos. Twitter is a place where you have to deliberately make a choice to view any image. However, Facebook and Tumblr are places where you see everything people post whether you want to or not just by scrolling through the feeds. So the argument of, “If you don’t like it, don’t look at it,” isn’t even an option on the table. I actually saw the man with his legs ripped off on one Facebook post with the caption, “Don’t look if you’re squeamish!” That’s probably the person’s way of trying to feel better about that, but the thing is, the eye will go to large images first and small words second. There is no option not to look. So people like me either have to completely stay offline until it dies down, or suffer through the repercussions. When you’re trying to look after people you care about, staying offline simply isn’t a choice.

What do I mean by people like me? I mean people with anxiety disorders, people with post traumatic stress disorder, and so forth. An estimated 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD in their lifetimes, not to mention the millions of others who have anxiety disorders, which means chances are you’re posting those photos where your friends with those problems will have no choice but to see them. You may think you’re educating people about “what really happened”, or you’re just facing the enemy head on, but what you’re really doing is contributing to triggering the symptoms of what people suffer with PTSD and similar disorders. Aside from those types of people, you simply don’t know what children are out there. True, it’s nobody’s responsibility to censor things for children except they’re parents, but we’re not talking about swearing, tepid violence, or sex. We’re talking about innocent people blown to shreds on the street. This is different. Children can be forbidden to use media, but we all know they sneak around the rules. We all did it. You’re exposing children to unspeakable things that they shouldn’t be seeing by freely posting such graphic, bloody photos in the name of your own agendas.

I understand the different reasons for doing it. However, I have to strongly urge that people consider that not everybody can handle it. There are ways to share these things, if you insist on doing it, so that people will have the option of not seeing it. Put it in your blogs. Put it on Image Shack or Photobucket. There are responsible ways to share those things and make your statements while still being respectful of other people.

I’m still feeling the repercussions of what I’ve seen in the last 48 hours. Not only do I feel violated that the bombings happened at all, but I feel doubly violated by not being given a choice about what I’ve seen as a result of it. The nightmares last night have scarred me the way my old PTSD nightmares used to scar me, and I feel like I’ve ricocheted right back to the days when I felt the worst of my symptoms. I haven’t been able to focus today. I’ve been periodically shaking. A myriad of other symptoms are still struggling to be contained. It’s going to take me time to recover from what I’ve seen and to regain my ability to log onto social media without fear. At least I could turn off television coverage under my own control. I have no control over the pictures you all post but I hope I’ve made you think about the way you go about it a little more. No, I don’t want to explain where my PTSD problems originated. That’s not the point. If you’ve been around here long enough, you can piece it together. I’ve had it under control for several years, but again, the last 48 hours have me feeling like I’ve ricocheted backwards. I know I’m not the only one because I’ve asked others like me how the photos circulating on social media are affecting them.

Just think before you post. Think about who might be affected by it even if it is “your page” and “your right”. Have some compassion for those who don’t have stronger coping skills like you do.

3 responses to “Tragedy and social media”

  1. Jenny says:

    “You may think you’re educating people about “what really happened”, or you’re just facing the enemy head on, but what you’re really doing is contributing to triggering the symptoms of what people suffer with PTSD and similar disorders. Aside from those types of people, you simply don’t know what children are out there.”

    Thank you for mentioning this. No one has seemed to care, and it’s really been disturbing. Completely insensitive to others, whether it be victims of the bombing, to innocent kids, to people with anxiety disorders, or to those who simply don’t *want* to see that kind of horrible media.

    – Jenny

  2. Mary says:

    If I saw someone I loved in a news story after they were killed, or horribly injured and in shock, I don’t know if I would ever get over it. When I see these images, I always picture the families seeing them.

  3. Courtney says:

    Well put, Jessica.


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