Ethical Implications of Graphic Photos: Boston Bombing

Assignment: There were many graphic photographs of the aftermath of the bombing. One showed a victim who had lost his leg in the blast. You can see his face. Explain the ethical implications of using graphic photos. 


Like most anything in life, I believe context plays a big role in how images, messaging, or media as a whole is received. In an effort to respect the individual who is shown in the photograph being discussed, I am choosing not to share the image on my blog. While he may not care, I’m unsure whether or not he does and I simply don’t feel the need to circulate it further. The image is graphic, and what is a sickeningly sad time for one man is also the time when other’s courageously stepped up to help.

Initially my eyes went to the gruesome image of the man’s missing leg. Before long my stomach began to twist as I tried to figure out what’s what in the image, which only made my stomach turn more. (As you may have guessed, I don’t do blood well.) I then changed my focus to the man and woman helping the injured man and their facial expressions. Without any text provided with the link (and even if there were text, it may not have answered these questions), I found myself wondering about the relationship between the man in the wheelchair to the man and woman behind him. Did he know them? Were they family members or friends? Were they complete strangers? Looking at their faces and sensing the compassion they had for the injured man, whether they knew him or not, the feelings of uneasiness dissipated and instead sadness overcame me, but so did joy — for the willingness of Americans (humans really) to come together in a difficult time

The point I am trying to prove (which is not nearly as eloquent written as professional journalists), is that the meaning of the image changes based on the context through which it’s absorbed. Is the image being published to portray the brutality of the attack or the hardship and  compassion of those affected? If an image of this nature is the be used, I most certainly feel as if the individual in the photograph must give approval, but also believe it to be an incredibly insensitive time to ask for such. What reporter is going to hang on to the image until a time when the news is no longer hot off the press.

Ethically, I believe it is incredibly inappropriate (and to some degree I thought illegal) to publish photographs of people without their consent. Whether or not it is “okay” or appropriate to do so, doesn’t address the fact that if consent is asked for it’s likely at an inappropriate time. More so than ethics, I think it comes down to morals and what journalist feel is right in their gut. I chose not to publish the picture…but I’m not a journalist.

While I think such images can be argued to portray a more realistic depiction of the event(s), which some may argue is what social media is all about (being “real”), but social media is also about being human. Just as the individuals aiding the man in the photograph showed compassion during a traumatic time, it’s the journalists choice to chose whether to exercise this same compassion. While I think there is a time and a place for “real” images and the context they are shared in is particularly important, I believe journalists overstep when they set their morals aside and forget that they themselves are human, as well as the individuals in the photos.