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Itamar family murder photos: A valid weapon? To what degree?

This is a response to an ongoing conversation I’ve been having/seeing on Facebook, reacting to the sharing of images of the bodies of the Itamar terror-murder victims, including the three children who were stabbed to death (note: neither of those links contain the images).

The issue has been that folks are posting the images of the dead bodies as part of sharing links to the story. I think people are doing it in haste, without thinking through the complexity of what it means to share these photos.

For my own sake, at the very least, I feel I need to clearly state what is going on in my head.

Here is what I’m NOT saying:

  • I’m not saying, don’t spread the news of the Itamar family with everyone you know, especially those outside of Israel who have not heard about it.
  • I’m not saying, don’t share links to news articles and commentary to inform people.
  • I’m not saying, don’t use social media to communicate the horrific tragedy we’ve been facing as a nation since last Shabbat.
  • I’m not saying I don’t understand why the family of the victims released the traumatizing photos of their bloody, murdered bodies – including those of the children stabbed to death.
  • I’m not saying I’m completely 100% anti the photos being released by the Israeli government (responsibly and with all due respect), especially to media outlets and world governments.

Here is what I AM saying:

  • First off, I’m fully aware I don’t have to check Facebook until the photo issue blows over. I’ve been scanning it cautiously, avoiding the images as best I can, so I’m being responsible over my own exposure.
  • While I understand the family’s decision to release the photos on a rationale level, I don’t feel the personal need to look at those images. Reading about the story traumatized me enough – as a Jew, as a resident of Israel, and most of all, as a mother.
  • We are a people who respect death and the dead – it’s written into the core of halachot related to mourning, treatment of bodies and purity. So it’s a bit of an interesting turn of events that the photos were released. And it’s equally interesting what the appropriate handling of that is for us, as individuals. Have we thought about it, as Jews? Have we appreciated this fact at all? Have we thought about how to go about this respectfully?
  • Some are arguing that using social media as a means of protest and hasbara is exactly what we should be doing. Amen. But that isn’t my problem here.
  • Specifically, my issue is using the images as a weapon in a setting where it’s not effective. Recognize that often, social networks are mostly a closed-circuit system for a lot of us. Facebook’s news feed algorithm is set so most of the time, it’s the people you interact with most who will see your shares. And who do you think you interact with most? People in your area, in your workplace, in your real life? Is posting a link to bloody images too little and too simple?
  • And is it the best way to connect with people on this story? Has anyone considered that many folks  unaffiliated with the situation may close themselves off to the story by being exposed in such an alarming way? Shock tactic is not for everyone. I’d hope people are thinking twice about their target audiences as they share these photos en masse.

Continuing on that, there’s more we can do, which basically comes down to targeting your audience.

  • Send the images and commentary to NYTimes editorial, CNN, BBC, etc. Those are places meant to target a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds. You know, not in your network or even six degrees from it. And in addition, the media outlets themselves need to hear what people on the ground think, too.
  • Send the story to friends, family, colleagues and old college buddies – directly. Start a dialogue one-on-one and hit home with people. Mass distribution on a social network site can only go so far, as mentioned (algorithm, share-flooding, etc).
  • Consider starting the dialogue without graphic and disrespectful photos, and move up to it if you need to. Or after building a base. I’m not sure that alarming people with images of bloody children is always going to be the best way to go; alarm tactics may work on some, but not all. Know your audience.

Again, people making this argument are not at all against sharing this horror with the world, using social media or otherwise. It’s more a matter of maintaining the utmost respect for the dead, respect for the situation, and respect for those of us who need not be repeatedly exposed to it after already dealing with the trauma.