Flickr sees dead people

These two pictures are of a dead man right outside the Helsinki Central Railway Station. Snapped with a cameraphone, and uploaded to Flickr with GPRS, the pictures spread with RSS and tags to people who sit comatosely with their aggregators and browsers, and feed on the information stream.

This is what street journalism is[1]. Whether it is a good thing, or a bad thing, I cannot say. That is up to everyone to decide for themselves.

But you saw it first in the blogosphere.

Update: I blogged this in a bit of a hurry, so I didn't get to say everything that I wanted. You see, photo publishing has become as simple as clicking a button on a phone and sending it as MMS or email to Flickr (you can even ask it to directly post it to your blog, which makes you a moblogger. Or you could any of the dozen other services). This is not journalism as such (it's photo publishing, duh), but there is not a very big step to be made from publishing pictures on-site to publishing small stories, answering the who,why,what,when, etc. And that's borderlining on journalism already.

Now, because unlike big media, these people who publish directly from the street (or in this case, someone takes the photo and someone else writes a story about it - or in this case the emotions evoked by the photograph) have really nothing to lose. They can't lose readership, but yet they have the potential to reach far larger audiences than the traditional media (just snap a good one and have your server destroyed by Slashdot...); they might even make a few bucks if they happen to have ads on their web page. And there will always be some people who couldn't give a shit about journalistic integrity, simply because they don't see themselves as journalists in the traditional sense. They just publish scoops: the same kind of scoops they see on the pages of tabloids. It'll just be about the stuff that they are interested about (as opposed to the latest celebrity gossip).

The reason why blogs have potential also as a citizen journalism platform is their incredible heterogeneity: as publishing becomes cheaper and easier (did you know that you can now upload pics easily to Blogger?), people are able to match the presentation quality of traditional media sites with little effort, therefore moving the competition to content side. In the old days, it was quite a lot of effort to start publishing something like a magazine. Then came desktop publishing, but there was still the problem of getting your publication to the news stands (i.e. distribution). Blogs (and other tools, but blogs seem to be in focus right now) removes even that. The only real problem left is finding content, i.e. advertising. Maybe some tools are already on their way to solve that problem.

Personal publishing will always display both the "light" and "dark" sides of people. I find it very disturbing that people write about how they plan to kill themselves on the internet. I don't find pictures of dead people really that disturbing - I find dead people often less disturbing than live ones. But you can find both pros and cons for either case: and you can easily find an audience for both. And it's really hard to say that one should not write about something, just because it's "not decent" or it's "disrespectful". Sometimes it's news, sometimes it's voyeurism, sometimes it's just something you shrug off as irrelevant. It depends much on the context: the same picture, once you know the background, can cause uproar in the entire world - or it can get you shot and buried in silence.

With something like street journalism, the decision to publish will always be in the hands of a single person - not an editor, or a code of conduct. And with the variety of people out there, there will be things that get a lot of people balking.

There's always someone who ignores every ethical guideline. And it's up to each person to think for themselves, where they want to draw the line.

[#1] Note that I didn't say 'citizenship journalism'.


Assuming that it serves no other purpose that voyerism, I think distributing photos of dead people is a bad thing.

--Kolibri, 24-Jun-2005

Why? The western society has been very efficient in suppressing the visibility of death so far that it has become a sort of a taboo for most people, insofar that looking at dead people is seen as voyeurism.

But death is a natural part of life. One cannot avoid it...

(I actually meant to raise discussion on whether street journalism is a good thing because it will touch on subjects traditionally shunned by newspapers - and it will make people uncomfortable in the process, surely.)

--JanneJalkanen, 24-Jun-2005

I agree with Janne here. I don't think any of the people in the pictures were easily recognisable so IMHO it's not even a privacy issue. The only 'issue' people might have is with the guy being dead, and that is precisely the point: it's worth noticing by a street journalist, not worth losing your cool over seeing it.

Of course, not everyone can handle seeing everything, so no one should be forced to see anything they don't want to, and linking to the pictures with a clear description of what they contain (like Janne did here) is a proper enough way to make sure of that.

--Jani, 24-Jun-2005

I see dead people.

--tommi, 24-Jun-2005

How about respect?

In my mind death is still a personal thing, and I know I wouldn't feel comfortable if someone photographed my dead relatives on the street for their own amusement and then put the photos on the net. I would expect everyone involved treating the body with dignity, no matter how dead he was and no matter how he couldn't care about it. Because I would.

I'm sorry, but in this particular case the photos serve no purpose. The person who took them, took them probably because he thought it was "cool" or because he could, or whatever, not because it served some public purpose. He could have just as well blogged the issue, and it would probably been much better way of reporting this bit of news. As it is - yes, I think it's voyerism. And yes, I clicked on those links and saw the photos, I admit. And just now I just did it again, this time only to see if someone had shared my feelings and commented on the photos - only to find some not-so-clever "holy shit" comments. So obviously, people find it interesting with 100 views, but entirely for the wrong reason - they are not interested in the event or the personal tragedy, they are interested in the photos.

So why am I "losing my cool over this"?

It's not a religious issue for me, it's a human issue. I think people deserve their privacy and dignity, even in death. In the same way I don't think results for research that was done on Jewish prisoners by Nazis should be ever used, and that aboriginal people's remains that Brits took from Australia hundreds of years ago should not be displayed in museums but should be returned to their people like they are asking. From respect to the the humans that they were.

Yes, it's a western attitude, and I think it's very much to do with our individualism worship - for example in Mexico where they emphasize the family, and death is a lesser of a taboo and dead people are much more part of every day life, they also respect them more than we do. They have a strong culture with honouring the ancestors, and for them the dead people are still family members. Now we don't have an attitude like this at all - we shove our ancestors to old people's home and visit them on Sundays if they are lucky. Some people want to take this to the extremes and say that there's nothing out of the ordinary about dead bodies and that we shouldn't be afraid/hesitant to show them... Well, I personally can't see what that would accomplish.

--Kolibri, 25-Jun-2005

Useita ihmisiä on selvästikin häirinnyt kuva (oletettavasti) kuolleen henkilön kuljettamisesta pois Helsingin rautatieaseman edessä olevalta raitiovaunupysäkiltä.

Itselleni tämä edustaa kuitenkin periaatekysymystä: niin kauan kuin kenenkään oikeuksia ei varsinaisesti loukata (kuvista ei kai voi tunnistaa henkilöä, esimerkiksi), minusta ei ole mitään syytä pitää tällaisten kuvien julkaisemista ei-suotavana, päin vastoin.

--Tuija, 26-Jun-2005

Janne, täsmennyksesi selvitti asioita hieman. Silti täytyy muistuttaa, että kysymys ei ole pelkästään "eettisistä ohjeista" vaan myös lainsäädännöstä. Vapaus kuvata ja julkaista kuvia on rajoitteinen samalla tavalla kuin sananvapauskin: se ei siis ole absoluuttinen. Siitä voi joutua edesvastuuseen.

Ja edelleen: pelkään, että nykyisistä journalistisista käytännöistä poikkeava sissijulkaiseminen johtaa näiden journalististen käytänteiden murtumiseen pitkässä juoksussa. Nyt kuolleista (tai oletettavasti kuolleista) ihmisistä kuvia näpsivät katujournalistit eivät tästä tietenkään välitä. Minua toimittajana se kyllä huolestuttaa.

--Kari Haakana, 26-Jun-2005

Kuvat ovat snapshotteja (kaksi kuvaa yli tuhannen joukossa). Ne ovat vanginneet hetken Kaivokadulla mutta eivät ole minun kontribuutioni kuvajournalismille. Niitä ei ole "julkaistu" kuvavirrassa kohahdutustarkoituksessa, saatika sosiaalipornoksi tarkoitettuina.

--e-z, 26-Jun-2005

Intentiolla ei ole enää julkaisemisen jälkeen merkitystä.

--Kari Haakana, 26-Jun-2005

Kari: huolestuttaa se minuakin. IPR- ja sananvapausasiat ovat pääsääntöisesti ihmisille hyvin vieraita: Esimerkiksi käyvät kauppakeskusten vartijat, jotka säännönmukaisesti yrittävät kieltää valokuvaamisen, tai sitten ihmiset, jotka julkaisevat Flickrissä selvästi yksityisluonteisia valokuvia (lieneekö kaikilta asianosaisilta kysytty lupa?). Asiaa sotkee sitten tietysti eri maiden lainsäädäntö (ja lain tulkinta!) internetin kansainvälisen luonteen huomioon ottaen: Flickr sijaitsee kohtapuoliin USA:ssa, jolloin tietysti sinne julkaistuja valokuvia koskee USA:n lainsäädäntö - ei siis kannata lähetellä sinne nakukuvia kolmivuotiaasta veljentytöstä, vaikka se olisi *miten* söötti mökkirannassa puljatessaan.

Tietenkin on myös tapauksia, joissa selvästi on kiellettyä kuvata jotain, mutta joka sitten osoittautuu tärkeäksi todistusaineistoksi väärinkäytölle (ref: Rodney King, Abu Ghraib).

Sissijulkaiseminen (hyvä sana, taidan adoptoida) joutuu varmasti törmäyskurssille jonkin kanssa jossain vaiheessa. Voisi olla hyvä idea jonkun asiasta oikeasti tietävän tehdä jokin sissijulkaisijan opas, joka käsittelisi niin lakitekniset kuin tietoteknisetkin kysymykset. Miten olisi jokin suomalainen tietokonelehti? Ainakin Enterin ja Tietokoneen edustajat lukevat tätä, *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*... Ja saa sen laittaa verkkoonkin, esmes Creative Commons-lisenssin alla...

Eettisistä asioista on sitten paha laittaa ketään edesvastuuseen. Netissä kun voi rellestää varsin anonyymisti niin kauan kun ei tee mitään laitonta.

--JanneJalkanen, 26-Jun-2005

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