Things That Should Be Obvious: Don’t Publish Snuff Photos


It’s no secret that social media presents novel problems of etiquette and appropriate behavior! Every single day I have to restrain myself from making some kind of inappropriate comment on someone’s Facebook wall that might be Internet-funny, but which wouldn’t pair well with that particular person’s sense of humor. As a Canadian, I am spared the horror of Republican relatives posting Birther propaganda, but I have heard tales. And look: we’re all learning. It takes time to learn how to calibrate your trigger finger such that it doesn’t always record your quickest reaction for all to see.

But there’s one rule we thought, until yesterday, might be obvious:

If someone posts a picture that seems to be evidence of a grisly murder to Facebook, don’t share it. Don’t even screencap it. If you lack the impulse control necessary not to screencap it, do not subsequently post the screencap (a) to your Facebook Wall; (b) to your Tumblr/blog/Twitter/YouTube/ChatRoulette; or (c) to your highly trafficked news site.

Look. It’s probably not within the realm of human control to demand that Facebook screen for prospective murderers. Nor should Facebook be held too strictly accountable for the speed at which it can track and remove such things — yesterday the killer’s profile was down within a few hours, which seems to me reasonable time enough. Even friends and family of the murderer and his victim can be excused for being in shock when the photograph was first posted. Although it’s a little eerie to see people “liking” other people’s exclamations of dismay on a killer’s Facebook Wall, I’m not prepared to say I wouldn’t do the same in the event of shock.

But for all unharmed third parties, like you, me, and, you know, Gawker: there is pretty much zero news value in a photograph like this. Some contrarians like to say that this makes people look directly at the face of violence, and confront the horror of it, and that their apprehension will marshal change. In fact, that’s complete bullshit. The photographs of Abu Ghraib resulted in precious little scale-back of the use of torture in interrogation. The photographs of Trayvon Martin lying on the grass have led to no meaningful effort to repeal Stand Your Ground laws. And the photographs of murder victims like this poor woman, whose photograph, even if cropped to show only her legs, is now available for viewing pleasure at various news and gossip sites, won’t lead to better support for the victims of domestic violence. It’s really that simple.