Disaster porn and pictures of cats

A number of times over the past few days updates about What’sApp selling for $15bn in my Facebook newsfeed have sat next to distressing updates about what is happening in Kiev.

This mixture of challenging events in the world and Facebook ephemera, or first world excess, happens all the time. I follow Keith Somerville and Anne Mugishu who regularly post updates about grim events in Africa and these can often find themselves next to new age aspirational images or pictures of cats.

I sometimes worry that this is no different from the TV news mix of disaster porn and “and finally” stories. I don’t very often share negative stories. It feels too easy. Feels too much like saying “look at me, I can care about suffering in the world and you should too”. It feels voyeuristic, triggering a guilty pressing of the “like” button (we SO need a “not like” button) on stories that we feel we should do something about but never do more than that click of the mouse.

Is this a bad thing? Is it better to know about suffering even if we do nothing about it? Is it just life that challenge sits next to froth? Should we learn to take responsibility for our experience of the world through these new platforms as much as we should with mainstream media?

What do you reckon?

6 thoughts on “Disaster porn and pictures of cats

  1. In DK this morning there is a debate about whether or not Danish tourists should visit orphanages in developing countries like for instance India when they buy a trip to Taj Mahal. To me it is logical that the children are not placed in orphanages so that we can use it as a zoo. But a lot of otherwise intelligent people find that this increase "knowledge about cruelty in the world"? A journalist asked how we would feel if Chinese tourists went to Danish orphanages and brought candy to the kids? Disaster sometimes brings out our empathy and sometimes we are convinced to pay/ contribute to a good cause – but increasingly I feel that other peoples disaster is just something we share on Facebook – to SHOW our empathy – and then do nothing else about it.

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  2. I agree that it is jarring to see light and dark so closely juxtaposed. What also bothers me is how little we understand of the dark from the snippets that fly past in the stream.

    As an example, yesterday I saw a tweet about a medic in Kiev who had been shot and whose last tweet was "I’m dying". Today it turns out that she is still alive (although severely injured). I only saw the later tweet by chance this morning. What you see determines what you understand.

    And the dark in Kiev is multi-hued. We see things that happen, but we cannot know who is doing what to whom. Are there fascist elements fighting the police? Has Putin sent snipers to fire on the crowd? I have seen both suggested, but without considered analysis (such as the traditional media sometimes provides), I cannot be sure what to believe.

    Cat pictures though — they are all true. Obviously.

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      1. True. I fear that people may percieve social media as being more truthful because it is more immediate, whereas traditional media is (and has to be) filtered.

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  3. I think you have it right when you say challenge sits next to froth, yes, that’s life. It’s just that all of the prurient detail, good and bad, is so much more in our faces all the time now and people (or at least many with whom I am connected) don’t know what to do with it. Sharing it can be a self serving act, but it doesn’t always mean a moral judgement either way. It might instead just be another way of connecting – not ‘you should care about this too’ but searching for solidarity, ‘do you care about this too?’ .

    I was thinking back to the past few weeks and found that I’ve have been ‘guilty’ of sharing the pain on global news stories too. Not quite on the level of Syria but I posted on Facebook about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffmann, mourning the loss of an acting genius (IMHO, as the youth say), but of course I didn’t know him, his death was sordid, his kids are without a father, it wasn’t so much inviting sympathy for my sadness at the news, but in truth I don’t know what it was now. Why did I post that???

    Damn it Euan you often make me look at myself and challenge my principles, it’s most annoying. 😉

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