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A woman flashes the V for 'victory' sign with her fingers painted in the colors of the former Syrian flag during a protest against the Syrian regime outside Damascus' embassy in Kuwait City on Feb. 5, 2012. (Yasser Al-Zayyat/Getty Images))

War Is Hell: A Continuing Conversation On Social Media And War Reporting

Feb 13, 2012

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Last week we wrote about the ethical challenges facing new media journalists after NPR's senior strategist Andy Carvin re-tweeted a gruesome video of children injured in the Syrian conflict. As part of a longer explanation, Carvin, a social media guru who covered the Arab Spring using Twitter, gave his personal philosophy on sharing graphic imagery:

War is hell—there's no way around that. And the growth of alternative media, social media, citizen journalism and the like now gives the public many ways to access content that would otherwise have been lost in archives. People now have the choice whether or not they want to bear witness, and I try help them make an informed choice (Read his full response on our original post).

The majority of those who commented on our blog agreed with Carvin's reasoning. Here's a selection:

Willie Culkin (inmyriver) wrote:
There are a lot of thresholds to be crossed before these images posted by Carvin are viewed. If you don't want to see it, don't open it. Getting upset that you saw it, and asking that it not be posted is equivalent to pretending it isn't happening. The world of reporting is changing and Carvin is doing what he can to ensure these images are viewed only by people who are prepared to see them. Let's face it, people look at those images out of a sense of curiosity, possibly morbid. If your spiritual habitat is disturbed after your sense of curiosity bested you, then you only have yourself to blame. If you don't want to see it, then bury your head in the sand and pretend it isn't happening. I don't say that with any condescension either, because I know people who do that and I understand why they do.

Gurukarm Khalsa (karma_musings) wrote:
Well-written and well-thought-out on Mr. Carvin's part. I also side with him. People follow his feed exactly because they're aware of what his work is and interests are. He gave fair warning in this case particularly ("My hands are shaking"); one can choose NOT to click - the UK user who said "I'd rather not have a link" is willing to give away her choice to click or not to click, to some other gate-keeper.

jim brooks (jiminkeywest) wrote:
Andy's explanation is fair. There is a difference between traditional media and social media. However, the ethical standards of a journalist straddling both realms should remain intact and firm. No, I don't think he violated any ethical or privacy standards but there are many "tweeters" out there who do not share the same professional standards expected from journalists. The social media playing field is uneven. It's akin to a professional player on steroids and one who plays clean.

Continue the conversation by listening to last Friday's episode of On The Media. It features a thoughtful discussion between Carvin and Sky News digital news editor Neal Mann, a well-known tweeter in the U.K., who decided not to share the video from Syria. Mann explained his reasoning:

Mann: It was the first time I've really had to seriously think on whether I should actually put this video out to my following on Twitter. It wasn't a video that I'd ever be able to run on air, on Sky News. It was just too graphic. And I felt I had to make a personal editorial choice for my Twitter feed and it wasn't an easy one to take. I thought about it long and hard.

Bob Garfield (host): It was just too much, you thought, for your followers to bear?

Mann: There may be people who follow me who are not used to viewing videos like this in the same way that the likes of Andy or I am, due to the fact we're journalists.

We invite you to share your thoughts below.

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