The Case Against Trauma Porn

Something that has always bothered me is the circulation of the so-called ‘Trauma Porn’ depicting graphic violence. More often than not, I come across these videos and images without ever looking for them, whether it’s sent to me without warning or I come across it whilst scrolling on social media, it’s always unwarranted. From the Rohingya genocide to Palestine-Israel tension, one thing is certain with these videos, they evoke an emotional reaction, which usually leads to people clicking off or sharing the video further.

However, I’ve only recently come across the term ‘Trauma Porn’, a phrase that is commonly used to refer to trauma being exhibited through visual, audio, or written media in order to generate a reaction from the consumer of said media. Trauma Porn tends to be distributed under the guise of raising awareness of atrocities happening around the world. But I’m not the only one who has a problem with Trauma Porn, many people have expressed their dislike towards this method of bringing attention to an issue. What I really want to know is will seeing images and videos really make us more likely to help people or does it just desensitize us to violence?

I spoke to Jo O’Reilly, Deputy Editor and Privacy Advocate at ProPrivacy about Trauma Porn, here’s what they had to say; “While the expression ‘trauma porn’ might be a relatively new one, but the existence of shocking images – usually of othered bodies – are nothing new.”

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

On the prevalence of Trauma Porn on social media, “Today it’s becoming virtually impossible to scroll through social media without running into something that could be described as trauma porn. Whether it’s the suicide of Russian teens, the tiny bodies of babies murdered with chemical weapons in Palestine or Syria, or Black American teenagers being shot at by those employed to protect and serve them, distressing content is everywhere. It’s become almost unavoidable.”. 

I also spoke to an engineering student who says that unwanted videos being sent to her on WhatsApp has changed how she interacts with people on group chats. “I think it’s the worst possible way you can get your point across, it just scars you when there are so many other things you can do. You can’t just force someone to see something they don’t want to. It’s happened to me so many times, it has even forced me to leave group chats because of it. You might be okay with this but it doesn’t mean anyone else is. I just think it’s really selfish.”

So what is it about these videos that keeps them in circulation, despite our aversion to the violence they display? A major argument for the use of violent imagery is that it allows people who aren’t affected by the violence in question to sympathise with the victims of violence. 

Residing in the UK, it can be difficult to understand the full effects of living in areas of danger has on people. Most of us will never know what it’s like to grow up in a war zone, or drought-affected land. Theoretically, the circulation of these videos increases our compassion for people in these areas, which is a massive positive. Now we are more aware of the horrific events happening around, this may actually have adverse effects such as PTSD and Compassion Fatigue.

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