Tweeting pictures of mutilated children is obscene

NEWS COMMENT

I ask this question because social media is awash with the blood of innocents. Twitter is full of photographs of the murdered children of Gaza – sometimes carried by screaming fathers, sometimes by blood-soaked women. Some bodies are torn to pieces. One no longer has a head.

Such images of war, of obscenity, of the “reality” of what sophisticated weapons do are everywhere. There is no more privacy. At one time, the media would have thought carefully about which images could be made public. But all notions about respect for the dead have been ripped apart by the advent of social media.

Perhaps they already were. We saw a dead Muammar Gaddafi on the front pages as some sort of “proof”. We see shrouds and horrors all the time and television news warns us in the aftermath of every bomb that we may be disturbed.

But now, on Twitter especially, there are endless pictures of dead toddlers. These are tweeted and retweeted to convey horror at what is going on in Gaza. This is obscene. But the moveable feast of semi-aroused outrage that is Twitter alights on one injustice after another. A while ago, my feed was full of butchered elephants bleeding where their tusks had been removed. Before that were lions accompanied by the grinning idiots who had killed them. None of these images persuaded me to think any differently than I already did.

Those who want to say something about the atrocities in the Middle East may indeed be genuinely distraught; they may feel that the need to pass on this visual information places them on some unquestionable moral high ground.

Trump card
They may feel that pictures of the broken bodies of infants trump all talk of the immensely long, complicated nature of this conflict, that it can all be simplified down to this.

Maybe that’s true, except still each side continues to blame the other. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks of Hamas actively wanting “the telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause”. We gasp in horror. At all of it. Pictures of Israelis watching the destruction of Gaza as if it were a fireworks party do the rounds – again, with no context. This was in Sderot where children don’t play outside but in shelters.

Alongside these pictures, social media commenters use “Hamas” and “Palestinian” as if they are the same. So eager are they to be on the right side that they tweet a picture of dead children, who turn out to be Syrian.

Does this competitive outrage matter? After all, 270 children were killed in Syria last month. But that is not trending.


Seasoned journalists were rightly disgusted that the bodies of those who died on flight MH17 were left lying naked where it crashed. They were given no dignity.

Where is our basic decency? We are told that to understand war we need to see the slaughter of civilians. The awful reality is that all wars look much the same. We need not just to see but to imagine. Those who cannot imagine the suffering of others are those who continue to justify it.

I don’t need to see any more images of dead children to want a ceasefire, a political settlement. I don’t need you to tweet them to show me you care. A small corpse is not a symbol for public consumption. For some parent somewhere, it is the loss of a precious person. To make these images common devalues the currency of shared humanity.

We do not respect those living in awful conflict by disrespecting their dead. Stop. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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