THE BLOG

Should We Be Seeing Fewer Disturbing Images of Conflict?

11/02/2015 12:55 GMT | Updated 12/04/2015 10:59 BST

For all the unbound communication we enjoy in the modern world, our vision of the planet and human behaviour is far more extensive than it has ever been. We see more of everything. The images that emerge from conflict zones in particular elicit the most emotive of responses. But could this opportunity to see more of everything, in detail, moving and in colour, result in a far reaching, sinister conclusion?

Prior to the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, and Ukraine, we already had a good view of the world, presented to us through the linguistic skills of journalists. Yet, in addition, we are now subjected to an increasing, unrelenting tide of execrable images to go alongside.

A significant disadvantage to the opening up of a network-laden world is that we are not easily disconnected. We see more than we used to whether we want to or not, simply by catching up with the news, or browsing the internet. Only a few months ago, during the conflict in Gaza, I scrolled down my Facebook page to an image depicting a young Palestinian boy who had been dismembered by an Israeli airstrike: posted by a political activist.

Despite having seen such images before, it took me in a moment of inanimate contemplation. Many lambasted the post suggesting it was insulting to the boy; others argued that it was necessary for people to see. For me, I was conflicted; I have been ever since.

Turn off your 'safe search', type in Gaza, Syria, or ISIS and you will be confronted with increasingly distressing images far more upsetting than any print media or mainstream news will show. These images, once picked up, are circulated on social media, replicated with messages, and become accessible to millions. They fast become the new mainstream.

Over the past few weeks I've been trying to untangle the motivation behind the broadcasting and sharing of such extreme violence. Is it to shake us free from western complacency? To be shocking? To gain more followers? Or, is it simply to be the first to have something to say at the local bar among the Facebook-ers and Tweeters championing fashionable global concerns?

What about those who refuse to look, those who denounce the images circulating around? Do those people, who find such images abhorrent, avert their gaze due to disgust, to venerate the dead, or in a craven attempt at innocence?

My reasoning tells me that the images are necessary to jolt us from our contented feeling of detachment, to force us to confront horrors that most of us cannot even imagine, to be more engaged with the world and consider our actions with regard to our involvement with other nations.

In the western world we as individuals are confined behind feelings of futility; powerlessness is our go-to response. Perhaps these barriers exist in reality; perhaps it's just easier to say any attempt would be pointless, a drop in the ocean to the comparative vastness and complexity of international politics. But horrific images and the ongoing human rights abuses around the world involve people in a united anger and hatred, the very emotive states which often instigate the violence they condemn.

With such wide access to emotive imagery we are so quickly and easily snarled in a collective feeling of fury. While this may break a few out of our 'click past it' culture, make some pause for a moment to think, or engender some to toss a few more coins into the local collection bucket, the more we see of such things the more we become empowered behind a common feeling, more prone to act, not out of rational thought, but by rage and anger.

What is for sure is that in the modern world it is now nearly impossible to allow my eyes reprieve from human suffering. Whether that's ultimately a good thing, I have yet to decide.