Facebook inhabits an odd place in our lives. Go to a particularly tedious lecture and you’ll be confronted by a glowing ocean of blue newsfeeds in front of you, a worthy substitute for note-taking if I ever I saw one. In such an isolated, self-contained university, going on Facebook can be a pleasant reminder that life outside the Bubble does indeed exist. But sometimes we are reminded of this in other, less pleasant ways – when someone shares a horrific image or video of war.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about the images I’ve seen. Suffice to say, many have been shocking, sickening even. If you have Facebook, and chances are you do, you’ll probably have seen them too. They might have affected you in much the way they affected me. Conversely, they might not have affected you at all. I don’t know which is worse.
I know some people will call me hypersensitive or accuse me of sticking my head in the metaphorical sand for this, but the fact is, no one needs to see images of sickening atrocities to know what is happening in the world. No one needs to see the last moments of someone’s life in order to feel sympathy, in order to care. To suggest otherwise is to insult the judgement and character of the people you know.
In fact, there is a case to be made that the widespread and popular exposure of such images may actually be doing more to harm the situation than help it.
We have all seen the iconic image of the napalm attack in the Vietnam War, the children running desperately from the ominous cloud behind them. We have all seen the solitary figure of a man, shopping bag in-hand, in front of a line of tanks on the streets of Beijing, holding them back as if by the power of his will alone. These fleeting moments, captured by a lens, sent shockwaves through the world. They inspired students to take to the street and protest the injustices in the world they were inheriting. Even to this day, they serve as poignant reminders of the strength and ephemerality of human nature – the best and worst of our shared humanity.
But can we say the same of the images we see today? Can we even remember the last image we saw of a chemical attack, a missile launch, a crying mother or lifeless child? In being surrounded by these images, we have become completely detached and desensitised from the atrocities occurring every single day. I doubt that any of the images or videos currently circulating Facebook will have the power of the iconic wartime images of decades past. Perhaps that’s what happens when you normalise the abnormal, when you’re desensitised to depravity.
To the people sharing these images and videos, please don’t think you’re a better person for it. Conspicuously displaying the very worst atrocities unfolding in parts of the world thousands of miles away from your comfortable haven of St Andrews does not make you more moral or principled than the rest of us. We do not need to see the graphic horrors of war in our university halls or sitting rooms to know what is happening and to know that it is wrong.
If you want to do something productive about the situation you care about, I’d be the first person to support you. But sharing these images helps nobody. And if you think it constitutes “doing something,” then it makes me wonder – do you even care at all?