Over the course of a week last week, I saw the following, inadvertently, simply by scrolling through my Facebook stream:

– a picture of an aborted fetus

– a video of a man committing suicide

– a picture of an autopsy revealing a woman’s brain and skull

I remember a few years ago when the Sarah McLaughlan animal cruelty ad was playing with regularity on the television. People in the online world got into a bit of an uproar about those ads because they were so upsetting and came on at unexpected times – times when the children might be in the room, for example. Without the opportunity to brace yourself and/or your children for upsetting, graphic content, you can end up with a long-lasting feeling of shock and sadness.

Now, the online world is presenting the same kind of problem, only on a far more regular basis, and with far more gruesome content. Facebook now also tends to show content that your friends comment on, not just posts from your friends, so the ability to control what kinds of things you see in your stream has been diminished. You have to depend on your friends not only to refrain from posting disturbing content, you also have to hope they refrain from interacting with such disturbing material.

I find this new trend (dare we call it that) highly disturbing. It bespeaks a mainstream voyeurism fueled by a desire to share things that are unique and that will maybe get a lot of reactions or comments. In some cases it is possible that people think they are sharing disturbing videos and images in order to make a very important point. I think the autopsy picture mentioned above was trying to make a point about how something impacts a person’s brain cells. Graphic images from Syria can certainly seem important. People need to understand the horror that is going on there. But there is a line when sharing images and video that should not be crossed. That line is called decency, and I think we are losing track of it a little.

It is easy enough to say that what we see online can be quickly forgotten. You can comfort yourself in thinking that maybe what you saw was a hoax or it was photoshopped. Even if that all was true, the fact that this kind of gruesome sharing is becoming commonplace is striking me as a bright red warning sign. We are losing our sense of humanity if we can share these things casually on an online platform with no qualms about how that might impact other people. With no warning, no ability for people in your community to shield themselves from such things, posts like this still occur with regular frequency. This is desensitization on a grand scale. The worst that a person can feel in the face of a tragedy is ambivalence. If we are more worried about the impact of a share than the content we are actually sharing, we have a VERY serious problem as a culture.

Have you encountered this kind of trend in your online wanderings? How do you deal with it? Do you think it is something that should be addressed somehow by the different major social media platforms? We’d love to hear from you!

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/prozac74/2954766669 via Creative Commons