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Crisis Porn: the power of content curation

Crisis Porn: the power of content curation

In early October 2013 a boat filled with African migrants sank off of the Italian island of Lampedusa, killing at least 111 people, and more than 200 are still missing. Friday the 4th of October 2013, was declared a day of mourning in Italy.  The event has brought much introspection and concern.  News and Media, not withstanding has of course told the story of these migrants. Sometimes the content is important to educate, inform, or even to advocate, but on Friday the 4th of October 2013, I think the Guardian went too far. More after the break…..
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All kinds of content is written or created to show different aspects of the tragedy on Lampedusa; maps, pictures, interviews, video etc. Each one tells the story supposedly from the perspective of those involved or affected by this tragedy. But, when the Guardian published a click thru photo slideshow of found photographs of those that were lost at sea, I think they went too far.  In simple terms, the Guardian bought, bartered or received photographs of family and of migrants, which were recovered at sea and somehow acquired by the La Stampa news agency, and reposted the images with one or two sentences of assumptions, questions or random thoughts.  Here is one example:
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More can be found on their page here:
Photographs of migrants lost at sea on their way to Lampedusa: Faces of amibition and hope are seen in this poignant collection of photographs washed up on beaches or found in wreckage

I see this as Crisis Porn… an offshoot of poverty porn.  It is when tragic images and stories of people are told to the benefit of the storyteller, in this case a news agency.

Here is my logic:

1. Unless they hired a fortune teller to speak with the dead I seriously doubt either La Stampa or the Guardian acquired permission to publish the pictures. The issue of ownership is a real one and calls into question the journalistic practices of La Stampa and the Guardian.

2. The security of the victims of this tragedy are not considered, nor of their families. The pictures and identity of the victims could lead to unforeseen consequences by others who might prey on the family or even by those that might have lent/loansharked money to the victim or her/his family to get to Europe for work. Al Jazeera reports on what actually happened to these migrants after and it is not pretty.

3. I am not convinced that the goal of humanizing the victims is a good argument for this story since there is no (real) information about their humanity that is offered. Either the journalists are lazy or simply not on the ground to collect the real stories (or worse money was not invested by their news agency) which further highlights the ugliness in my last point…

4. Why do a click through? We know that news agencies receive advertising dollars based on clicks and page views.  What a ten image click-through slide show does is multiply one view times ten, and soon we can all see the money rolling in.

In the end “Crisis Porn” or “Humanitarian Aid Porn”, or “Poverty Porn,” at their core are all about power. When the powerful tell the stories of the powerless to gain more power… that is unethical. When the powerful, be they news agencies, humanitarian aid organizations, or charities use the images and stories of their subjects for their own enrichment, that is unethical. No matter how noble the cause, I believe that a story becomes exploitative when the subjects are not involved in the creation and therefore not empowered which can often lead to the same paradigms that began their oppression. For the sake of space and your sanity, I won’t even dive into the festering waters of the “white man telling the black man’s story” or how this information technology is re-colonizing the global south. That will have to be for another post.

In the meantime, tell me:  What do you think?

I am communications strategist and social entrepreneur leveraging new media and digital technology for social change. Read more
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