Apr 7, 2020 in Society

Disaster Photography in Media


In 2014, it was estimated that one trillion photos were taken across the globe based on the number of humans that owned a photo taking devices by then. Out of these pictures 1.8 billion were uploaded to the internet on a daily basis which translated to 657 billion by the end of the year. Social media was the main platform where these photos were uploaded with Facebook having over 250 million uploads per day. Among those pictures which were taken and uploaded, where those from disasters that are mostly disturbing to view. Such high upload of these photos has thus resulted in a huge difference between the traditional media and the social media based on the ethic of photography. This paper thus will analyze the use and control of disaster photographs in the traditional media and the social media in the contemporary society. It will also address whether these two media can be integrated to supplement each other. 

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Use of Disaster Photography in Traditional Media and Social Media

To analysis how photographs are used differently by both the social media and the traditional media, it is advisable to focus on past events which show a genuine difference in these two form of media. Among the cases that shall be discussed include 9/11 which was the most photographed event in the world, the 2013 Boston attack, and the 2016 attack at Nice, France. These events occurred at different times of internet and social media evolution, and thus the photograph coverage deviates extensively.


The 9/11 Attack in the United States

The 9/11, 2001 terror attack in the United States took place at a time when most people in the world relied on mainstream media like television and newspaper to get information. During that period, paper and article were the main press which was used to disseminate photographs to the people. The internet was also present but not as widely used as it is today. The coverage of images was thus mainly in the traditional media.

The photos presented in the press were limited, most of them focused on the victims, but did not show the victims that were bleeding and critically injured. The photos were well scrutinized before they were posted on the print media, as the press had the entire night to present the newspaper in the following morning. Batchen et al. state that, the traditional media was guided by the journalism code of conduct in their presentation of graphical and horrible pictures. On the other hand, those few photos that made their way to the internet were more of the same graphics but were much quicker to reach the general public. However, their effect both on the victims and the internet's users were muffled as not many were accessible to them.

Boston Attack of 2013

The attack that took place during a marathon event was quite tragic as it involved twin blast on the open air, which killed three civilians and injured 246 others. The scene of the incident was horrific as most victims had open wounds and were breeding from all over the bodies. Due to the high attendance of public in the marathon, the information entered the social media immediately. Witnesses on the ground took photos and vines from the event and immediately uploaded them to the programs like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Within just a few minutes news about the incident had reached all corners of the world, and social media users could get unrehearsed pictures from the scene immediately. However, most of those who took photos of that attack were just ordinary people without any knowledge of journalism ethics. They thus posted some images that were horrific on the internet, and within seconds those pictures were available anybody in the world.

On the other hand, traditional media was several minutes late as they had to be called to come and report the incident. The information collected and picture taken were not reported undeviatingly to the public, but was careful scrutinized and later reported in the following day newspaper or on television. Due to the high inspection conducted on those pictures, the traditional media limited the breadth of coverage and in particular on the outrage photos that had people with extensive injuries and oozing all over their bodies. 

The 2016 Nice Terror Attack In France

This is also another attack which has shown the clear difference on photo reporting by mainstream media and the social media. On the social media, those individuals who were present during the attack incident took pictures of victims who were scattered on the road and uploaded them to the internet immediately. The photos and vines uploaded on the first few second showed victims suffering on the road, while as other lied lifeless, but no one had arrived to help them yet. The pictures are disgusting to watch, and they paint a horrific picture on people's mind. 

However, this was not the case in the mainstream media photos. The majority of traditional media journalists arrived few minutes after the event and thus could not take urgent pictures. They also came after first aiders had arrived and thus they did find casualties of the event suffering on the road. Concerning those who died, they took their picture when they were covered with white sheets. The photographs from traditional media were thus less horrifying, and they were adequate to communicate enough message to demonstrate what transpired on the scene. 

Control of Disaster Photographs

From the above analysis on how disaster photographs are conveyed in the world, there is enough evidence to claim that these photos have a direct effect on the society. They are both relevant and evil to the community depending on the position of the individuals involved. By weighing both the negative and positive effect of these photos, then it can be determined whether they should be controlled or not. 

Effect of Disaster Photographs on the Society

As said early, the effect is either positive or negative. Concerning the positive effect, pictures are an exquisite mean of conveying information, and keeping history without distorting anything. During a disaster, most of the people seek to know the exact thing that is happening. However, reading about it, cannot be as accurate as seeing. Images thus become a very critical part of delivering disaster news to people all over the world, as they are believable. Concerning mean used to transfers those photos; the social media is the most favored by many people today. Batchen et al. state that, with social media, first-hand information is delivered on real-time regarding photo sharing; hence they are quite relevant. However, it is not the case when it comes to traditional media, as their information is mostly late. For example, people have to wait till morning so that they can obtain information from the newspaper. In this case, photographs from the social media tend to have more relevance than those in traditional print media.

Nevertheless, these disaster photos also have their negative side to the society. First, there infringe the rights to privacy for the individual who falls victim of the accident. When people photographs the victims, they have little or no say to such act as they are mostly weak, dead or in a coma. Thus these individuals do not possess any capacity to consent whether they want their images taken or not. The photo taken also causes post traumatic distress to the sufferers of the disaster. Once they recover from their injuries, they and their families find it hard to put such event behind them, because these photographs always remind them of the event. Lastly, those photos taken from a disaster scene can also be edited to represent the inverse of the reality. Different individuals share photos online for various reasons and thus altering photo is common as it helps them achieve their goal. 

Different Ways That Can Be Used To Control Disaster Images Sharing

Due to the adverse effect that is accompanied by unregulated disaster photographs sharing, it is agreeable that such images need to be controlled. One approach in which this can be done is by having a legislative law that gives guidance on how images should be shared with the public. Such code can be very efficient and especially to the established traditional media which can be easily located. Newspaper, magazine, and television can be easily regulated as they follow a code of ethic described by their organization; hence any legislative law can be easily applied.

Concerning the social media, it is quite difficult to regulate the sharing of photos, unless some rights are taken away from the users. One way in which sharing can be stopped is through the filtering of pictures of the organization that owns the social media. Today, the images taken from the scene of disaster are uploaded directly to the internet without been checked. However, if the social media companies are forced to filter the violent graphics, then only those photos that are descent can be shared. Alternatively, these companies can also introduce new application in their platforms that help users to hide the face or affected part of the body. If an application like face-blurring, cropping, or black colors sticker can be introduced, then most users can use them, thus sending photos that demonstrate human dignity. However, the only fear of regulating sharing of photos is the interference of human's right to expression and speech. 

Traditional and Social Media as Supplements of Each Other

The Role Played By Either Media in the Modern Society

The traditional media and the social media plays very different roles in the modern society. Despite that both of them are meant to deliver information to the people, the manner at which that information is transmitted varies. By starting with the social media, it present real-time information which other traditional media cannot. Once an event occurs, it takes only a few seconds for the information to be transmitted all over the world. A platform like Twitter has become so important in the dissemination of information such that even government departments and prominent people also uses them to communicate to their people as soon as possible.

Social media is also considered extensive and informative in the manner that it transmits its information. There is no filtering or regulations about the content that should be shared with the social media. Thus, everything whether important or not is always distributed from one people to another for them make their conclusion. The social media thus has immerged as the most informative communication platform as compared to traditional media.

The accuracy of social media is also quite high as many sources produce information at the same time. Despite that some of the users can be adulterated or exaggerated the situation as a disaster, photographs taken always delivers a more accurate information. The possibility of all eye witnesses doctoring the pictures is very minimal, and thus most of them always report what is supposed to be shared.

On the other hand, traditional media also have several roles that its plays in the society. First, it has authority, unlike the social media. The news that is presented in the newspaper, magazine and television are more authoritative, as these companies are seen as more legal to give out information to the people. Despite that the news and photographs are filtered, the little that is presented to the general society have much effect on the people.

Moreover, traditional media is also seen by many as a source of clarity for the extensive information presented in social media. The online platform always gives too much information that can certainly confuse the users. The photographs shown are too much to view all of them, and some of them are even edited to match the users' preference.  The information that is shared in these online platforms is thus not reliable to people, and there is a need to clarify on what is real. This is the place where the traditional media comes in as it is believable and trusted by the majority of the world. 

Traditional and Social Media as Supplements of Each Other

Focusing on the above-stated roles of each type of media, then it is clear that they can supplement each other to deliver better information to the society. If used together, the information will be disseminated quickly, detailed, and more accurate. The role of the social media will be to deliver information immediately to the people without unnecessary delays. This will thus ensure that people all over the earth remained informed at all times on the new occurrences like disasters. Secondly, the social media will also be critical to the delivery of information as it will deliver detailed and accurate information.

On the other hand, it will be the work of traditional media to conduct an extra job of sorting out what is true and what is inaccurate in all the information presented on social media. When they do this, they will be both authoritative and will provide clarity to the people. Together, the two media will thus be more efficient and reliable, and certainly, more people are likely to endorse them.


In conclusion, the above exegesis has analyzed the use, control, and supplementing of disaster photographs in the traditional media and social media in the modern society. It has been revealed that the social media and traditional media have different roles they play in the society based on the way they submit their photographs. However, submission of horrific photos of disaster has been determined to have adverse effects, hence should be controlled by legal action. Finally, the two media have been found to be quite distinct in the manner in which they are used in the society, and thus they can supplement each other in delivery information quicker, detailed, and reliable.

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