My friends, I would like to begin 2016 by asking that all my readers who network animal issues online take a moment to consider your methods. There seems to be a recent uptick in hideously gory photos of injured animals, and worse, photos of dead animals. I don’t think these photos accomplish what you think they will.
How many of us change the channel as soon as the “sad music commercials” come on the tv? At virtually every gathering of animal welfare people I’ve been to in the last year, someone has brought up these commercials. The universal reaction among animal welfare people is an emphatic wish that these commercials would stop. They upset us because we already see mistreated animals regularly. We already play on the animal welfare team. And the strong visuals with sad music become deeply bothersome as a result.
Social media’s equivalent of the “sad music” phenomenon is the posting of gory, ugly photos of dead or injured animals. Well-meaning people think that these disturbing photos will inspire people to get involved or donate funds for vet care. I suspect it’s just the opposite.
While it’s true that photos of sad-looking or malnourished animals do tend to draw more donations, there is a fine line between pathos and graphic violence that people often cross. If the photos are too graphic, people will gasp and hit the delete button. They will not leave that horror on their screen while they make a donation. And you will miss an opportunity.
If you’re an animal welfare networker, then odds are that most of your social media contacts are also active in the animal world. They, of all people, already know what an infected wound looks like. They know what a degloved paw means. They know what a prolapsed eyeball looks like. And after seeing enough of these things in real life, they do not need or deserve the visual assault of having them randomly pop up in their Facebook newsfeed.
Many who post these graphic photos defend the practice by saying they’re educating the public. Here again, shock value only goes so far. An angled photo that hints at the wound without providing a jarring clinical closeup or a photo of a bandaged wound will serve you much better, because it will get sympathetic attention without causing potential donors to recoil and hit the delete button. It won’t turn your followers off to the point that they defriend or unfollow you to avoid those images.
Right about now, I hear people saying “Well, if they can’t take it, then they can just unfollow me!” That’s right. They can. But if they do, you lose out on potential donations, networkers, fosters, and adopters that might have come to you through that channel. Far better to use a more PG photo and maintain the integrity of your network. And what about the “regular people” on your contact list? Would you rather shock them or educate them? Violent visuals shock. Education requires a gentler approach.
Then there are the photos of dead animals. I’m begging you. Stop. Just stop. A sickeningly popular photo making the rounds recently is the photo of a dying police horse with his rider holding his head and comforting him. People seem to think that they are honoring the officer and the horse by sharing the photo. They’re not. That photo is a terrible intrusion on a devastating personal tragedy for that officer and his horse. Ask yourselves how you would feel if you saw a picture of the violent death of your beloved pet every time you logged into Facebook. I’d so much rather see happier memorial pictures of the officer and horse working together; those truly honor the fallen animal and his human.
If you feel that you simply must post graphic photos, you can upload a cover slide with a graphic photo warning. That way, someone scrolling through a social media page will see the blackout slide with the warning and then have the option to see the photo or not. It’s a question of being respectful to your audience and really, to the animal you want to help.
Friends, there is a lot of ugly in the animal welfare world. We all know that. Our job is to remediate some of the ugly. Maybe we would do that more effectively if we remember that we don’t WANT people to become desensitized to the terrible things we see out there.
What do you think?