Sharing Graphic Images Raises Ethical Questions


March 22, 2015 by EmilyCRios

We have all seen images blasted through the media after devastating acts have occurred and social media has only increased the ability for these images to be shared and shared quickly. We have seen this happen time and time again and once such instance was following the Boston Marathon Bombing when media and private citizens alike were sharing images of the devastation they were witnessing first hand.


Images of bloody victims with missing limbs were being shared, but just because these images are being captured does it mean it is ethical that they are being shared. Some of the ethical concerns that sharing these photos raise are privacy and whether or not using an images of someone at their worst is right and in the case of major tragedies all people want to do is know that their loved ones are safe and by sharing these types of images people could essentially end up seeing their loved ones dying before their eyes.


Another question raised by sharing these graphic images is whether or not they give power to the people or groups that committed the horrific acts.


These graphic images do not always have to include bloody violence and devastation. Following the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut one of the images that resonated the most with me was a photo of a line of children being led a way from the school by FBI agents with several children appearing to be crying. While this was a powerful image that truly showed the devastating and the young lives that were lost and affected by the terrible events those children are going to have to deal with that day for the rest of their lives and I can’t imaging that seeing photos of themselves on that day is going to be helpful.


In the National Press Photographers Association’s Code of Ethics one of their standards is to “treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.” It all comes down to news organizations and individuals deciding what they think people need to see.




2 thoughts on “Sharing Graphic Images Raises Ethical Questions

  1. migshields says:

    Hey Emily,

    I think you raise a great question when you ask if these images give power to the people or groups that committed the horrific acts. I am on the fence about this one because I believe it depends on the case by what the person or group wants to accomplish in their attacks. For instance, I had a big problem with CNN playing the Virginia Tech shooter’s “manifesto video” back in 2007. That was exactly what that person wanted when he made the video, so why validate him by showing it? Also, I believe it gives others an incentive to commit these acts. But in the case of the Boston Bombings, I don’t believe showing the image in question gave any power to the two brothers. Their motives were more towards the U.S. Government than getting their faces on television.

    • EmilyCRios says:

      Hi Mike,
      I do think it depends on the situation in regards to whether or not certain images should be shown in the media. The Virginia Tech shooter’s manifesto video was something that hooter definitely wanted people to see and I also had issues with the fact that CNN and other media outlets were playing it because it made the story completely about him and played into his desires. There is no simple answer when it comes to what is ethically right our wrong to show and regardless of what guidelines are in placeI think a lot of the decisions are made in the moment based on what the story is and who is involved.

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