Tragedy Porn

Tragedy Porn – It’s not news! …And no one needs to see it!!!

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Tragedy Porn – It’s not news! …And no one needs to see it!!!

These past few weeks have been traumatic. In Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, Cyclone Idai became the worst natural disaster to ever hit our region. The catastrophe left many homeless, missing or dead. As with many tragedies, images of the aftermath of #CycloneIdai became viral on social media.

This is not the first time I have been disturbed by an influx of gross images in my WhatsApp messages or Twitter feed. It seems after every huge accident or unfortunate event we can now expect the gory details of the tragedy through uninvited imagery. In addition to the cyclone aftermath, we had to deal with images from the New Zealand Mosque shooting and now South Africa has also added its share of gruesomeness as xenophobic attack videos circulate on social media. I found myself, without warning, watching a mob crush a man’s skull crushed with bricks. The restriction filters on Twitter do not seem to be helpful as many users clearly don’t use them.  Consequently, from gunshot wounds to fetuses and brains,
SADLY, I have officially seen it all – most times without warning. We need to evaluate this obsession with tragedy porn.

Some countries like the UAE have made posting violence or dead bodies illegal and punishable by law. Is it time for us in Zimbabwe to adopt similar laws and enforce them for the sake of our humanity? However, why should we need laws for common respect and decency? Traditional media shied away from showing violent images and faces of deceased persons because they have ethical and professional standards they adhere to. Has social media somehow diminished our empathy? When and how did we become so insensitive to pain and suffering? When did we stop respecting the dead and why do we now see it fit to parade dead bodies on our social media timelines without a single thought about the family members or the sensitive among us? This goes beyond “respect for the dead!” While it is important to inform people and create awareness of the gravity of the suffering that continues, how many dead bodies do I need to see to understand that Cyclone Idai has devastated my country? None! I do not need to see any. Those close up, grotesque pictures of bodies with missing limbs are not necessary.

One study published in the Psychological Science Journal showed that repeated exposure to media images of traumatic events may be harmful to mental and physical health. According to the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, another study done by the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Canada found that:


frequent, repetitive viewing of violent news-related video and other media raises news professionals’ vulnerability to a range of psychological injury, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although this particular study focused on news professionals it logically would apply to anyone exposed to these images, perhaps with an even bigger impact on ordinary folks without appropriate education/training or access to therapy. These gory images are traumatising us and this trauma desensitises us.  We now all have post-traumatic stress disorder from events that we didn’t personally experience. How can we have hope in humanity and maintain positive feelings about the world we live in with these consistent extremely insensitive graphic reminders of how terrible the world is. There is a reason parents protected their children from such images in the past. The psychological damage of such images cannot be easily reversed.

Recently in South Africa and Zimbabwe we have seen teenagers murder casually with no remorse. I’m sure that most of you would agree that it is highly likely that growing up exposed to graphic images of violence and death desensitised them. Traumatic imagery has possibly hardened them to the point of being able to objectify other human beings enough to kill with no remorse. Anti-social behaviour such as lack of remorse, lying, insensitivity to the emotions of others, and manipulating others has been linked to watching violence on screens. It is a lot more complicated than I am putting it but the bottom line is, these images do more harm than good. The other serious discussion that needs to be had is the effect viral videos of tragedies have on the victims’ families. It is hard to imagine going through a mourning process while the world uses your loss for entertainment dressed as news.

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The other sad truth is many of us increasingly prioritize the perfect social media picture that will get attention over the tragedy that is in progress. On the other hand, many choose to take pictures instead of being in the moment and helping because they believe that there is nothing else they can do. They feel as if by documenting the tragedy they are somehow helping the only way they are able to (or is the brain now conditioned to be lazy to help and quick to document). Whatever the photographer or videographer’s motive is, in an ideal world these images should not be on social media.

BEFORE YOU SHARE TRAGEDY PORN: Ask yourself how you would feel if that is a photo or video of your mother, father, child, brother, sister or close relative being circulated to entertain the world on Social Media???

So the next time you receive a gruesome image that disturbs you, do all your friends and family a favourDELETE IT. You cannot “unsee” a traumatic image but you can help make sure that fewer people go through the same trauma!

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