Between the traumatic bombings of the Boston Marathon and the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas, this week has quickly jumped into the running for The Worst Week Ever. The popularity of social media dramatically increased what we saw and heard, both from the number of eyewitnesses sharing the scene as well as how quickly information has dispersed.
As advantageous as the proliferation of information has been, we’ve also been exposed to chilling images that previously would have been missed when filtered through traditional media. Social media circles were far too willing to share these traumatic events without proper warning of what we were exposing our networks to.
Many of the photos from the Boston Marathon were gruesome: pools of blood, dismembered limbs and, most shocking of all, Jeff Bauman Jr. with both legs missing. After the Texas explosion, one video near-instantly spread across Twitter depicting a father and child recording the fire when the plant explodes. The following seconds are as bone-chilling as anything you will ever hear.
It is irresponsible of us – whether journalist or social media user – to be circulating these kind of materials without adequate warning of what the link contains. A simple ‘this is horrifying’ or ‘oh my god’ simply is not enough when we are talking about materials as extreme as we’ve seen this week. The concept of giving a ‘trigger warning’ about a possible traumatic trigger has risen in popularity in recent years and it is something that we all would have benefited from.
As we mourn and come to understand what tragedies befell us this week, we need to have a discussion about what we share and how. I am in no way advocating these images be censored; they present a raw and real understanding that should be available. But we should be careful to properly label content and warn our followers of what they are about to see.