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A Call for Social Media Restraint During a Crisis

A Call for Social Media Restraint During a Crisis

At 12:43 today, I watched the tweet stream about the Ottawa shooting with horror. The story unfolding in 140-character bites, complete with pictures and up to the minute snapshots on the scene. Photos of victims, police and journalists are flooding the #Ottawashooting hashtag. There are faces and places in all those snaps. I understand the importance of sharing information on the social channels – this is the collaborative economy and social sharing has enabled the world to be a better place – from fueling revolutions to empowering people for social good. But there is a line to be drawn and it is our responsibility to understand the limits and act with accountability.The keyboards and phones in our hands are mini weapons when used improperly. When someone tweets out a photo of a tragedy- consider the consequences. The face of the fallen may be recognized (or mistaken) by a parent. It is the role of the police or hospital do the informing, not yours. When a photo and location of a police or journalist are shared, they are exposed to greater risk in the midst of a crisis. This is where the line of public safety gets crossed.Now, the responsibility of photojournalism isn’t entirely on the shoulders of citizen journalists and many missteps have occurred in formal communications channels as well. I recall a particularly awful day in 1994 when my friend, Shannon Lowney and another woman Lee Ann Nichols, was shot and killed by a gunman on New Year’s Eve day at the Planned Parenthood office in Brookline, MA. She was the receptionist. It was a truly tragic event. It happened at a time when online was just starting to learn about visual web display. That evening, when I logged into my AOL account, I saw a dramatic and particularly graphic, photo of my dear friend on a stretcher. I wrote an angry letter. “Consider the family! Give her some peace,” I begged. I didn’t hear back from anyone, but still remember that day far too vividly.We are in the midst of a social media revolution, where sharing tools are free and fast. Always consider the impact of your actions when you post that Twitter card with an image. Please.

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