Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Editorial | Chilling photos on social media

Published:Saturday | July 23, 2016 | 7:00 AM

The national conversation this week included one about unacceptable behaviour for social media after the mutilated body of a three-year-old St Ann victim went viral. Why would anyone post gruesome images of an extreme act of violence against an infant? Who benefits from such postings?

The incident was outrageous and the entire community should be ashamed that there was no one to protect that child, as also the scores of others who have fallen victim to the evil in our seemingly corrosive society.

Social media becomes more accessible by the day, and even persons who are weak in expressing themselves have no fear about having their say on that platform. Indeed, it can be regarded as open season in the online community, and it matters not whether what is being said is true, ugly, offensive, or questionable. The lines between public interest and privacy are eternally blurred. All that is required to reach a global audience is a smartphone with Internet connection.

Last week, the police in St Ann appealed for persons to stop posting these images, citing the distress it causes to relatives of victims when they are bombarded by graphic illustrations of their loved ones. The act of posting these gruesome images raises ethical questions, too. Is it ever appropriate to photograph and post images of accident or death scenes? Can one be allowed to grieve in private?

Rapidly growing digital technology has placed at the fingertips of everyone platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where opinions can be posted, and it requires little effort to publish text or photographs to a wide audience.

Many companies have developed guidelines and protocols for the use of the Internet by their employees. And in the wider community, there needs to be more responsible behaviour by users of social media. These include obtaining permission from a subject before posting his or her image, seeking permission to share someone's posts. There are also issues of copyright infringement and defamation.

 

Useful sources

 

These platforms were created to be useful sources of information and to connect people of like minds and for fun and games. Essentially, the Internet has made it possible for the more efficient conduct of business and has enhanced greater connectivity. Unfortunately, there are some who use it in negative ways, including cyber-bullying. Social media can also be a magnate for criminals such as paedophiles and other predators.

For those who believe that anything goes on social media, be aware that there are, indeed, consequences for irresponsible social media behaviour. There are many practical examples of celebrities who were publicly shamed after intimate photos were published or others who were fired from their jobs for making insensitive remarks. It often takes a long time to combat the lingering impact of public shaming via social media.

By now, most persons are aware that more and more employers are conducting web searches on job applicants. Young persons who are drawn to social media need, therefore, to be alert to the fact that prospective employers may visit their pages, do their research, and make a judgement based on their postings.

A letter writer to this newspaper had this to say about the practice: "While there might not be any law that restricts persons from engaging in these acts, we can only rely on moral suasion or a wake-up call for the perpetrators. Perhaps an unfortunate personal experience may help them understand the pain others have endured. This needs to stop."

Around the world, the law is rapidly evolving to govern people's behaviour on social media. Jamaica should also be thinking about prohibiting the sharing of victim photos and should create civil and criminal sanctions for persons who violate these laws.