Boston Bombings: Ethical Approaches

Social media managers have to constantly make ethical decisions on what to post, how to post it and how will it effect the public. Content on crises and tragedies are usually those in which what is published has to be in the best taste possible. This is especially important when visuals come into play. Social media is a branch of journalism; therefore you are required as a professional to present the news to the public as it happens.

In the Boston Bombings, we were presented with numerous amounts of information and pictures of the tragedy, so much so that news networks worldwide were showing the video of the actual bomb. The victims of this tragedy are merely innocent in the conflict, which brings up the notion of whether or not their faces/names should be published. News media are there to get reactions, people want to know what occurred, and the best way for these networks to show that is to present all information, photos and videos of the event.

This brings up the ethical side of the argument in which whether or not the posting of a bloody victim should be shown. I like to say that these types of situations should be done only at the consent of the victim. Personally, if I had been in the horrific situation the victim was in, I’d be adamant that my picture not be publicized. I feel when you get down to these tough situations; a good journalist should get approval. It’s not right to paint this victim as anything that he or she wouldn’t be comfortable with.

At the same time, you have to realize that some followers of your network will not want to see these images. The key behind this is to present a warning—graphic content disclaimer—to ensure that you properly notified your audience of what they might see. I think networks have done a great job of this, but sometimes they focus more onto making an “impact” with their audience, over being ethically correct.


The Boston Bombings was the most engagement I had seen on social media, even more than the Superbowl. I think this is one of the rare situations where social media managers have to keep in mind that even though they are solely responsible for presenting the news as it happens, they have to make sure to not offend or scare any of their audience. My solution to any sort of graphic photos is to make sure you warn your audience. It protects the brand and assures that anyone who has a negative effect towards the posting can’t say they weren’t warned about it. I have nothing against these images coming out, under 2 conditions:

  • The victim or person in the picture gives consent for it to be published.
  • Audiences should be warned if they are seeing graphic situations.

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