Among the many topics discussed in class recently, was the question of whether Twitter should take steps to remove or censor graphic content. Further, we discussed whether it was ethical to do so as an autonomous, third-party commercial enterprise. We’ve been asked to defend our rationale in our post.
Our specific example is the beheading video of journalist James Foley by Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants. Twitter did suspend accounts containing the video and in doing so, catapulted itself into the age-old quagmire that traditional media has been trapped in: to ban or not to ban graphic images.
Questions such as this become highly volatile because of personal, religious, professional, and even artistic beliefs that create a myriad of responses. I will attempt to lay out my stance, and defend it to the best of my ability by telling you what I believe supports my conclusion.
BUT FIRST, I HAD TO DO SOME DIGGING INTO TWITTER
I am just learning about Twitter and its uses. Like many who are not regularly use it, I thought Twitter was all about short bursts of personal expression contained in 140 characters or less. But what was once a platform of teenage angst is now a serious source of news. According to a Pew Research report, half of the people on Twitter use it to get news. With 271 million users encompassing 35 languages, that makes Twitter a major news source.
The very immediacy of the platform’s Tweets makes it the wellspring of information on events as they happen. There are no lag times on the platform. While not actively monitoring content, Twitter does have TWITTER RULES. There is a rule about posting threats and violence against someone. Beheading another human would fall into this category.
So unlike traditional media, it’s not a question of IF something should be posted, but should it be taken down once it has been noticed. As pointed out in a story in a story on the NBC news site, the issue is further complicated by the arduous task of navigating through multicultural beliefs about what’s considered taboo.
For my reader’s information, you can turn off the automatic preview of photos on your mobile app and select a “sensitive” content setting on your desktop platform. See how HERE.
SOOOOOOOO, Where do I stand on sensitive content?
I will freely admit I am a super sensitive person. Seldom will I watch shows with violence. Yeah, I pretty much haven’t been to the theater since Herbie the Love Bug in the late 1960s. I don’t like violence on TV, in movies, on video games, in cage fighting, or news. I watch news because I feel it’s an important source of information about our world. I rely on warnings or the editorial control of the broadcasters to shield me from graphic images.
I understand I’m an anomaly
Where to draw the line___________
I can almost hear some of you saying, “but what about THIS picture, or THAT video. Who decides where to draw the line? I would appeal to common sense, but I’m afraid that’s gone the way of many social norms and a sense of propriety. The anonymous nature of the internet can bring out the worst in people.
Logically, I believe that we must study, case by case, the reason for a shocking image being included in any media. The context in which it is being displayed has much to do with the need and impact of the image. Does it have significance, tell a story better than words, add impact to the written word, or explain a truth that needs visualization? What will the effects be on those viewing it?
I don’t believe anything is fair game for public posting. The ramifications of publishing such things can be many. In the example of the beheading, I think first of the impact on unsuspecting viewers. Then I think of the family of the deceased, children who may run across the photo, the extremists who use this as a propaganda tool, and the lack of decency for the dead.
A news story describing a beheading would be sufficient enough to convey the brutality of the event. Watching a man’s beheading would not be needed to bolster my belief in the insanity of the act. In thinking about this, I realize that a still image affects me much differently than a video. The most violent picture, while repulsive and unnerving, is a frozen moment of time. My brain can see the image and comprehend it, yet somehow be removed or shielded by the stillness. A video with movement and sound, magnifies the intensity ten fold.
Twitter is a business
By not allow the photo to remain on the platform, Twitter is taking a stand for the users, whom they believe would concur, that it’s not appropriate in any way. Twitter is a business and must decide the tone and nature of what is acceptable on the platform
We should remember that no platform on the internet is completely free of control. Paul Levinson discusses this in his book New New Media. Many assume Twitter is simply user-generated on a platform of absolute freedom. But social platforms, while free to use, come at a price. That price is having to abide by the rules set in place to make the site safe and appealing to the majority of its users. Ask anyone on Facebook about the continual changes in user agreements and you’ll get an earful.
Besides…you can always find it somewhere on the Internet
We have reached a pinnacle of numbness on our planet. Violence and unrest from around the world and in our own backyard comes bombarding into our lives every time we tune in to media. The immediacy and freedom that gives the Internet its great appeal, allows the ugliest part of humans to flourish in living color.
I have also learned from classmates, that there are web sites specifically set up for violent and disturbing content to be viewed. People knowingly enter them to view the macabre and disgusting and that’s their choice. But to stumble upon such a picture on Twitter or Facebook, with no warning? Not so good.
Digital media is in its infancy. Rules and social norms are developing right along with the technology. We use these sites without thought until we run into a shocking moment like the beheading . Then we make quick assumptions and judgments one way or the other based on the first thoughts that flow through our minds.
Is it ethical to edit content?
So, um, yeah, I think it is ethical to edit these posts or images. While Jihadist would praise the acts portrayed as moral, most of the world would vehemently disagree. If nothing, the Internet teaches us a global consensus on anything is an impossibility. But when an overwhelming majority of earth’s population shudders in disbelief and despair, I think that’s reason enough to say stop.
As a company, Twitter decides it mission, vision, and policies to promote and grow its business. Ethical decisions are part of that decision-making process. The company has a right to protect and maintain the image and environment it wants to create on its platform. With the bajillions of other places people can go to feed their need for shocking visuals, there is no need for every site to pander to a portion of society that desires to view such violent content. I applaud Twitter creating standards they feel keeps the integrity a platform that so many go to for news.
The arguments over graphic content will continue as long as media exists. I think the changes in technology can easily outstrip society’s ability to adjust its perspective. I hope instead of feeling overwhelmed and unable to stop “the inevitable”, we manage to balance our drive for technology with compassion and human kindness.