Creative Nonfiction Faith

The Grisly Side of Facebook: Propaganda Porn

Sunday mornings before church are usually one of my most peaceful times of the week. I enjoy sitting down with a hot coffee and no workplace to go to for that one day. I often scan Facebook for a few minutes too. Yesterday I was perusing updates and pictures of friends and acquaintances when a grisly image related to Benghazi appeared and rattled me right out of my morning routine. The image was disgusting and accompanied by a caption that basically said Hillary Clinton is the worst and you better think about that come 2016.

Facebook dislike
Image by WikiCommons user Kvarki1

I could not get that image out of my mind all morning. I was angry because it wasn’t the first time someone used Facebook to post horrific images not easily or even possibly forgotten. Here are just a couple examples of disgusting images forced on me in recent months:

  • A man severed in half in an auto accident allegedly because he was texting and driving.
  • A gruesome leg injury that I scrolled past as fast as possible and didn’t see whatever that was supposed to be all about.
  • A scene of massacre from the Boston bombing. Actually, this one was supposed to be inspiring about a heroic act. That didn’t help.

Here is what I immediately posted on my wall:

“Okay, here’s the thing. I’ve never made a Facebook disclaimer like this before, but if you post graphic nasty photos of real people who are tortured/wounded/dead or something along those lines and they randomly appear in my newsfeed that’s an instant unfriend*. I know the world can be a terrible place. I know you believe that Barack Obama and democrats/George W. Bush and republicans are evil. I understand the grisly reality of many issues I care about. But posting unsolicited graphic content without any warning is super inappropriate and disrespectful and honestly just emotional manipulation in place of a well reasoned argument.”

I remember a few years back when I was partly responsible for running a business. A Planned Parenthood clinic operated just a few doors down and a group protesting the clinic and abortion would stand on the street, just at the legally mandated distance, with a variety of signs showing the images of murdered babies on poster board sized signs. This spot was also across from a restaurant and a coffee house. I listened to client after client express their disgust with those protesters.

And then I remember the first time I had to drive past those idiots with children in my vehicle. I’ve talked to other parents who have had to answer similar questions to the ones I faced that day. And when I confronted the apparent leader of that group on the street some time later he made it clear that he really didn’t care about “people’s sensitivities.” I guess he was so busy being right that he never worried about how his group’s actions had the opposite effect of his stated intent.

Maybe you believe that people need a wake up call and that by showing obscene images to the world you are appropriately doing what is necessary. I have two questions for you:

  1. Are you communicating the truth in love?
  2. Exactly what is the ratio of people you actually persuade versus the people who are hurt, offended, or emboldened against you?

If someone manipulatively shows gruesome images for a cause I support I am saddened and ashamed.

Now comes the part when someone says I am just living in denial, too worried about my selfish bubble and unwilling to step out of my complacency.

Not true.

I recently had a conversation with a student about why we have to study terrible events like the Holocaust and the violence against blacks in America during the 1950s. We must understand the truth and remember so that awareness might limit such violence in the future. And we must do this with reverence. As my pal Carla mentioned on my Facebook posting yesterday:

“The tragedy and horror of humanity should be given the appropriate respect God commands of all those with life, not be depicted above the option of “like” and immediately below a posting by Grumpy Cat.”

As a history professor I am well aware of the horrific things humans have done to one another since photography was invented. When I have to teach about the Holocaust my students are instructed to put down pens and not worry about taking notes. The event is too important to simply be put on a multiple choice test. We approach it with reverence.

When I teach about the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955, I tell my students that I will not show the pictures of his murdered corpse that Jet Magazine ran but that they are available online. My students should have the same choice I want, the choice to look at those images with a properly prepared mind and heart and for a meaningful purpose.

No one should be ambushed by offensive propaganda. The paltry word we use for such images are scenes of graphic violence, but that word doesn’t go far enough. Used in a manipulative or shocking way it’s obscenity, and I would go even farther than that. Would it make sense if I posted some still images from a porn flick in order to show you that pornography is wrong? Disagree if you like; it’s the same thing to me.

Certain events and experiences can change us in profound ways. Sometimes we have the opportunity to decide if we are ready to go through a formative experience. Well, some images are so powerful that certain people who view them will never be the same again. We should not thrust such things in their face yelling “Look at this right now!!!”

We must communicate the truth in love regardless of the medium.

How do you feel about this sort of use of violent images?

*I only use the childish term “unfriend” as Facebook created it, a tool to manage my account. Saying this does not mean that I immediately believe in terminating real life relationships, just that I don’t need to be subjected to certain behavior in certain places.

By Clay Morgan

Clay Morgan is the author of Undead. Say hi on Twitter.