Looking through a lens at the Boston Marathon

Breaking news can cause a surge in social media visits as people all over the world feed their hunger for the latest information. This applies to any major news event or tragedy but I’m going to focus on the most recent, which is the aftermath of the explosions at the Boston Marathon.

I looked at social media myself to see the updates and near enough every tweet contained something about Boston. Tributes and opinions alike flooded my timelines – but instead of moving me I found it unsettling.

Trying to squeeze my thoughts into 140 characters, I posted this tweet:

I had such a big response, and a wave of new followers off the back of it, that I wanted to expand here in my blog. I have a problem with the voyeuristic images that I was bombarded with, whether I wanted to see them or not. Apparently, as news consumers, we ‘need’ to see images of devastation like that. Fair enough, the blasts were shocking. Do we really need to see images of the injured at what is perhaps the most vulnerable time of their lives?

In my view, ethics should come before sensationalism. In the UK, the law states that people should have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and this would be most applicable in times of extreme tragedy and heartache. Yet, I could see the torture on the faces of people whose legs had been blown off being stretchered away. I doubt they had given their consent to that. It brings up the debate as to whether a person surrenders their right to privacy for being involuntarily caught up in a news story for the sake of ‘good pictures’ or whether their right to privacy should be respected by journalists.

Just because technology makes it available doesn’t necessarily make it right. Maybe it’s because our culture is used to the blood and gore seen in films and video games – but this is real life. I think it reflects our sadistic society; devastation could still be conveyed by censoring someone’s identity, not ideal but it’s a compromise.

It’s not to say I agree with it, but I can understand why news corporations broadcast and print these contentious images. The knock-on affect of this is that the images can then be copied and manipulated by the general public and posted to their social media profiles, on the likes of Twitter and Facebook. In their defence, many may feel it’s a tribute to post their blessings next to a photo of a wounded runner. Personally, I find it disrespectful and an invasion of privacy into the life of someone they have never met.

Anyone with a camera and a wi-fi connection can now be a reporter, but perhaps more worryingly, is that anyone with a keyboard and an opinion thinks they can be a citizen journalist. Although, there is something fundamentally wrong in that view because any credible journalist knows it’s their duty to report, rather than speculate, about what’s happening. The people on social media trying to be citizen journalists can offer no more insight than the next person sat gazing gormlessly at a computer screen can. It’s the reporters at the scene who can relay the accurate information – chose your sources wisely.

I’m not condemning the support that the Internet can offer, the tributes to the victims of the Boston blasts were touching. However, this has a flip side; the Internet, particularly social media, is littered with people’s opinions that mean nothing. I’m all for freedom of speech as long as it’s informed and respectful – otherwise, why waste your breath?

About Katy Booth

Broadcaster and journalist who has worked in the newsrooms of BBC local radio, regional television and commercial radio for more than a decade. BJTC accredited.

Posted on April 16, 2013, in Journalism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I remember scouring lived feeds when police cornered gunman Raoul Moat in Northumbria.

    Not detracting from his terrible crimes, I felt sickeningly guilty when his suicide shot rang out live on air.

    I just thought, what has it come to when we can all but choose to watch a man end his life like a rat in a hole ‘Big Brother’ style.

    We’re still somewhat juvenile when it comes to social networking in the face of a major incident, but then it seems these tools offer vital evidence in tracking down the culprits.


  1. Pingback: Emotion in journalism | Katy Booth

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