It’s Never Okay to Use Death Photos to Score Political Points

For quite some time now on The Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show, the podcast I host with Chez Pazienza, I’ve been ranting about social media users who wantonly post death photos on Facebook and Twitter. Specifically: I have a strict zero tolerance policy for anyone who thinks that posting images of dead people, or dead animals for that matter, and especially dead children is a reasonable or acceptable way to make a point. It’s not. So I routinely unfollow and unfriend with extreme prejudice.

In the last 24-hours, I unfollowed both someone whose tweets I typically enjoyed, as well as The Intercept‘s Jeremy Scahill, with whom I don’t always agree but whose reporting I admired — in fact, Scahill and I followed each other, until today of course. Both posted corpse photos on Twitter of mangled Palestinian children over the last several days. Just to be clear: I did not unfollow due of any allegiance to one side or the other in the current Gaza conflict. I unfollowed for broader ethical reasons, beyond the ethnicity of the victims or the motives of the killers.

1) It’s exploitative. Death pornographers think it’s an effective way to shock people into supporting their glorious causes. Underscore their causes. Sorry, but it’s not about you making your point. These are dead human beings, not fuel for your memes. Sure, it might work with some people on an emotional level, but for as many people as it might win over, it turns off an equal number of viewers who are, like me, repulsed by the brazen exploitation of a bloodied corpse, desecrated and stripped of personal identity, blurted onto Twitter, and filed into the perpetual social media flume ride of trolls, bots and Wonka memes.

2) It’s weak. I get it: a picture speaks a thousand words. But too often, the posting of death porn exposes a weakness in the poster’s ability to effectively verbalize the cause. If you can’t make your case in a convincing way without shocking your audience, you probably need to hunker down and work on your writing skills. If you can’t sufficiently explain why your cause should be important to me, dead children shouldn’t be your fallback position. And by the way, if your goal is to completely undermine your cause, by all means, feel free to desensitize your audience.

3) We can’t unsee these horrible images. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not opposed to publishing death photos, nor do I support censorship when it comes to explaining the realities of war. But give us the opportunity to choose whether we want to see these things, rather than forcing the images into our brains.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s anti-choice activists confronting us on street corners with sandwich-boards festooned with images of aborted fetuses, or whether it’s anti-Israeli activists condemning the attacks in Gaza. Death images aren’t a convenient widget for your proselytizing. If your goal is to honor the people who were lost, at least offer them the dignity of not including them in your ridiculous social media timelines among your dinner photos and barroom selfies. Show some respect for the dead, and show some respect for your cause.