As It Happens

Barrage of violent images from Manchester attack plays into terrorists' hands, says journalism prof

Sharing an endless stream of violent images and videos on the news and social media does more harm than good, says journalism professor Christian Christensen.
A woman holds a placard during a vigil for the victims of an attack on concertgoers at the Manchester Arena. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

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In the aftermath of a suicide attack in Manchester, video and images have emerged showing wounded victims and panicked concertgoers — many of them children — scrambling over each other to flee the deadly blast.

But some are questioning whether sharing these disturbing streams of footage on the news and social media actually does more harm than good. 

"This kind of repeated coverage on a loop of showing the same videos over and over again, I think it creates a kind of unease and a tension that actually is the goal of the terrorists," Christian Christensen, a journalism professor at Stockholm University, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"They want this kind of discomfort and this kind of chaotic atmosphere."

The suicide blast claimed by ISIS killed at least 22 people at a Monday-night concert by American pop singer Ariana Grande in Manchester.

Many children and other youths were among the dead and the 59 wounded in the attack, according to Prime Minister Theresa May, who condemned the "callous terrorist act."

Manchester police identified the bomber as Salman Abedi, but did not provide further details. A 23-year-old man has also been arrested.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, news and social media relied on looping footage and unconfirmed reports to fill airspace as information slowly started to roll in, Christensen said. 

"When you have a large amount of unconfirmed information, it becomes very difficult for the viewers to sort of put these things into context and understand them in the bigger picture," he said.

"I think live coverage would benefit from news organizations and reporters reminding viewers the way in which news works — how sourcing works, how unconfirmed reports work — and that sort of helps viewers and listeners at least view these things within a journalistic context."

A woman lays flowers for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack in central Manchester on Tuesday. (Darren Staples/Reuters)

A better approach, he argues, would be to use those first crucial hours to give people information they can use — even when you're talking to an international audience

"One thing that was very rarely shown was contact information for people in Manchester or internationally, or suggesting, for example, social media sites, official ones, for the Manchester police or local political organizations that could give information," he said.

"These terrorist events, for example, in Paris, in Brussels, and here in Stockholm we had one recently, the goal here is an international image of what's going on."

Members of the Manchester Sikh Community attend a vigil in Albert Square. (Kristy Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

There are times, he said, when there's a case for showing graphic or disturbing images.

He cited the tragic image of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi's body washed ashore on a beach in Turkey in 2015.

"You can argue for and against showing his body on the beach, but I think the goal there was more of a humanitarian one, that this was the humanitarian toll of the refugee crisis," he said.

"On the other hand, showing, for example, injured people or bloody bodies in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, there I think news organizations and individuals on social media who spread these images, they do play into the hands of the people who committed these acts, because this is precisely what they want. They want to have images of death. They want to have images of blood. They want to spread fear."

With files from Associated Press

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