My Facebook newsfeed is littered with images of suffering: a uniformed soldier cradling his child at an airport; a young girl who has lost her hair from cancer treatment; a bloodied newborn with his heart on the outside of his body; a chained dog who has been mutilated by his owners; a bruised woman who has been beaten by her husband. The images always involve visual distress and come accompanied with a caption in the vein of: 1 like = 1 prayer; 1 like = 1 respect; ignore = you don’t care.
Gratuitous images like these exist in my newsfeed because people or organisations post them, with the sole ambition of increasing their online popularity. The image poster is exploiting the pain of the image’s subjects, to improve their own social media presence. Your online interaction with the image serves as an endorsement of that exploitation. What makes this kind of blatant grab for likes more ugly, is its guise as a gesture of goodwill and concern for the image’s sufferer.
These images are not about raising awareness. If an image were intended for that purpose, specifics like name, time and place would be given. They’re not, so we aren’t to know which person, disease or war is accountable. It’s even possible that these images have been gleaned from old sources and are five, even ten years old. Of course, this is irrelevant; your gut response and consequent ‘prayer’ or ‘respect’, represented by the clicking of a button, is all that really matters.
Gut responses to images of people or animals in pain are just that. Humans feel empathy by instinct. Displaying your hard-wired capacity for empathy, without direction or application, by liking, commenting on and sharing these kinds of images is emotional pornography. It doesn’t make a skerrick of difference for the subjects featured. What it achieves, is a cheap and nasty boost in activity for the poster of the image, and a deluded sense of do-goodery for the person interacting with that image.
For sincerity’s sake, when you’re confronted with an image in your newsfeed that tugs your heartstrings and urges for your all-powerful like – restrain yourself! Instead, take your ‘1 prayer’ and ‘1 respect’ and next time you see a vendor spruiking The Big Issue, stop, have a chat and buy a copy. Donate some money or volunteer your time for Legacy, The Cancer Council, RSPCA, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF – whomever floats your charitable boat. But PLEASE, do the (Facebook) world a favour and take a stand against false advocacy and emotional pornography.
[As published by MamaMia (29/11/12): "I'm sick of Facebook emotional porn."]