Suffering; why it needs to be seen

In an almost daily cycle since the beginning of the Syrian war in March 2011, people have published on the internet the shocking images of the atrocities committed during this time.


These are only a small portion of what is published online from the homes and battlefronts of Syria.

These images are published with the intention of inciting action. The war photographers, and citizen journalists of Syria wish to let the world see the horrors they endure daily, and hope for more help to come to them as a result.

This is not a safe practice, with 103 reporters, filmmakers and editors killed in Syria since 2011, as well as countless citizens.

Yet they persist, as the potential consequences of publishing these news stories and images include more aid, more awareness, and even the possible end of the war.

So why don’t we see these images constantly on the front pages of the traditional media of newspapers?

If these people are constantly risking torture and death for their efforts, should we not, at the very least, reward them with widespread exposure?

The internet is a great medium for spreading images quickly and in great volume, however, it lacks the impact that the traditional medias still carry. As academics Daniel Trottier and Christian Fuchs Routledge explain, online usage is extremely customisable; the public is easily able to pick and choose their online news sources and even specific stories, this leaves gaping holes that these important images can fall into. Comparatively, newspapers and other physical news sources force the exposure of these horrific events upon the sometimes willingly blind public.

This difference in impact is exemplified in the case of the photographs of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy who drowned escaping Syria with his family.


This image was circulated through most of the major newspapers in September 2015.

The image then incited major protests to the war, as well as countless donations, and campaigns for the Syrian refugees.

But these are not the first images of dead children to come out of Syria.

As of February 2017, 55,000 children have died in Syria as a result of this horrendous conflict. Yet we had not seen these images before Aylan’s death and we have seen almost no further images on major newspapers since that time two years ago.

This willing censorship by traditional news medias comes from the risk of compassion fatigue, describe by sociologist Keith Tester as the progression of

…becoming so used to the spectacle of dreadful events, misery or suffering that we stop noticing them.”

Yet numerous researchers and case studies have proved that the percentage of disturbing or violent images presented in major traditional news sources is almost negligible.

Further research from David Campbell also reveals that although it is possible for the images published online in high volumes to somewhat diminish the horror of the events in war, it is still much more important to be witness to these images. For if the public turns a blind eye to the atrocities presented to them in the name of distaste, it is equal to actively accepting the suffering of others without remorse.

Several studies have concluded that the images, and images with captions of war, and the casualties of war have a much larger impact upon the viewer than standalone text news pieces. This is further evidence towards the powerful results that can come when the public is forced to witness the atrocities of war.

This is why, despite the horror we may feel when looking at the suffering of the Syrian people, it is our responsibility to not look away. This is why no warning was presented at the start of this post.

It is only through seeing suffering that enough real empathy can be generated from our society to actually do something, to say something, that will finally this war, and the suffering of these people.


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