How should we deal with images of death? Friends of James Foley urged the world not to watch video or stills of the photojournalist’s gruesome beheading by ISIL, and social media were quick to take them down, prompting debates over censorship. But you can still watch police kill Eric Garner and Kajieme Powell, two black Americans, on YouTube, or see people mill around the lifeless body of Michael Brown, whose death triggered the Ferguson protests.
Western media have typically shied away from showing death at its grisliest, but the media in many countries take a different view. The mangled, bloodied aftermath of car crashes and narco shootouts is a staple of the Latin American nota roja. Arab TV channels linger on footage of Gazan children blown to bits. The mutilated victims of separatist militias appear in Indian newspapers. But with social media, you don’t even need to search for such images; they come to you. Should you click? Should you share?
This week’s contrasting cases, of victims of ISIL and victims of the police, suggest that the right question to ask of an image is not about its content, but about its consequences. If we witness police brutality, it could lead to police reform. If we witness ISIL’s (rather more extreme) brutality, will it lead to ISIL’s defeat, or merely strengthen its capacity for terror?
This is more complex than balancing freedom of information against the victim’s dignity or common decency. Images don’t have agendas. Those who spread them do. When you next are tempted by a link with a self-conscious “WARNING: GRAPHIC” before it, ask not “Is this going to be too gruesome?” but instead “Why do they want me to see it?”—Gideon Lichfield
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Signs of Rosneft’s panic. Russia’s state oil behemoth breezily shrugged off Western sanctions against Russia; it might lose some loans, but it had plenty of money in the bank, it said. Not so, reveals Steve LeVine, thanks to an oil trader who noticed some rather odd movements in the oil futures market.
Why black journalists needed to cover Ferguson. The American media prides itself on its color-blindness. But as Sonali Kohli explains, during the protests over the shooting of a young black man, the differences between being a black reporter and being a white reporter—and the woeful paucity of the former in American newsrooms—became very clear.
How will we talk about life before the internet? If you feel yourself still young, yet are baffled by the kids these days, take comfort from Michael Harris: You belong to the last generation that remembers pre-internet life, “the only fluent translators of Before and After.” Leo Mirani talks to Harris about his new book and about belonging to this unique layer in human history.
The extraordinary things Indians believe about menstruation. Superstitions that a woman during her period shouldn’t ”touch the pickle jar” or water plants would be hilarious if they weren’t also tied to crippling discrimination against women. Diksha Madhok writes on Quartz India about the myths that Narendra Modi should be trying to quash.
Where’s the moderate Muslim majority? On the internet, that’s where, says Bobby Ghosh. Unlike after 9/11, when neocons could point to TV to support their claims that all of Islam supported terrorism, today social media are full of Muslims repudiating the barbarism of jihadists like ISIL.
Five things elsewhere that made us samarter
Could anyone become a medical supersleuth? A woman with two rare genetic conditions delved deep into her own DNA to discover a connection that the world’s leading researchers had missed. Ed Yong in Mosaic explores whether she was a brilliant exception, or whether falling technological barriers will allow anyone with a rare sickness to become an amateur expert.
The international Lego crime ring. They may not be quite as valuable, but Lego blocks are like uncut diamonds in being an untraceable commodity that’s easy to sell over the internet. Shane Dixon Kavanaugh at Vocativ on the one black market you probably never thought existed.
Can a robot be too nice? Yes, a robot can have a personality—or at least a set of behaviors that humans will mistake for one. And the design of that personality turns out to be crucial, explains Leon Neyfakh in the Boston Globe, as robots start to become capable of jobs that require human interaction, like a security guard or simple nurse.
How Wall Street saved Robert Mugabe. Even as the US government was trying to isolate Mugabe during the 2008 election, a consortium of banks and hedge funds may have helped the Zimbabwean dictator snatch victory by investing in a mining company with ties to his regime. Cam Simpson and Jesse Westbrook in Businessweek revealed a tangled interplay of power and money.
Getting intimate with killer whales. Kids may love SeaWorld, but the employees who have to look after its capricious and dangerous residents have some eye-opening stories about everything from neonatal care to killer-whale masturbation. Tim Zimmerman spoke to some of them for Outside magazine.
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