Stop and think before you share that harrowing picture on social media

With this mass exodus, a flood of harrowing photographs showing the humanitarian plight has emerged. Given the fundamental power of photography, however, the desire to spread awareness of human rights abuses and the potential harm of showing difficult photos are not easily reconciled. Before sharing images of vulnerable migrants on social media, it’s wise to pause and consider the myriad ways a single photograph can wield outsized influence.

On several occasions during the past century, a single photograph led to widespread public awakening about the plight of migrants and quickly mobilized significant humanitarian support. Dorothea Lange’s widely reprinted “Migrant Mother,” first published in a San Francisco newspaper in 1936, prompted the US government to send 20,000 pounds of food to California to aid the impoverished family pictured and others like them. In response to the gut-wrenching photo of the lifeless body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015, the United Kingdom announced that it would accept 20,000 Syrian refugees.

While photography can move hearts and minds, it also poses ethical dilemmas. A viewer is never privy to how subjects feel about the way they have been captured, nor if circulating the moment enshrined on film (or in pixels) might perpetuate further suffering.

Leave a Comment