Some observations on the implications of social media inspired by controversy over the selfies taken at the NYC East Village explosion:
My visit to the 9/11 Memorial this summer was a sobering experience. I stood in a place where so many lives were lost. I ran my fingers over the engravings of the names of those that died and saw flowers and notes left by loved ones. I leaned forward hoping to see farther down when, years earlier, I would’ve been craning my neck to look up at the Twin Towers.
Feeling the heaviness of this space, I felt awkward and uncomfortable posing for a group picture with friends. Not necessarily because it was a reminder of pain and sadness – I think that can be deserving of documentation – but because it didn’t feel like my pain. I didn’t know anyone who was hurt or killed, or even know anyone who knew anyone. I didn’t own it. Chances were that no one would see our smiling faces in front of the name of their loved one, but it still didn’t feel quite right. To me.
Others, including a teen called out for taking a selfie there, feel justified in taking photos. Like most around my age and older, he remembers September 11th vividly. Taking a photo at the site was just an extension of his personal story. He did feel a sense of ownership.
I guess we can take a moment to lament the fact that social media makes everyone a journalist, whether or not they’ve taken a multiple choice Intro to Ethics exam or flipped through some powerpoint slides on the ethics of photojournalism. But in my experience those classes don’t offer many hard and fast rules. And today I felt uncomfortable looking through a photo spread from a big city daily. And maybe you feel totally fine with this selfie and don’t want to waste another moment lamenting.
Today we have a ton of chances to get angry or think, “I would’ve done that differently.” Social media makes public those individual choices that we may not have otherwise heard about. When I post this, or anything else, I’m making myself vulnerable to criticism from those who disagree. And the internet, made up of individuals and reporters, can easily make an example of someone’s decision.
That’s some intense peer pressure. Maybe it will have a sensitizing effect similar to that of a classroom in some cases. It certainly makes me think twice before sharing.