• Fri, Aug 9 2013

Dear Gawker & BuzzFeed: Here’s The Thing About Posting That Murdered Woman’s Photo For Pageviews

BuzzFeed graphic

Dear BuzzFeed & Gawker,

I read you both on a very regular basis. Generally speaking, I like both of you very much. You are informative, hilarious and often very impactful in a positive manner. I appreciate your presences on the Internet, and I am happy you exist. However, I wish you had not posted the photo of that murdered woman on your pages.

(For those of you who do not know, I am referring to the horrific murder of Jennifer Alfonso by her husband, Derek Medina, who then posted photo of her dead, bloody body on Facebook along with a confession and an explanation as to why he killed her. It is unbelievably awful, and nobody needed to post photos of it.)

Look, I work for a site on the Internet, too. I understand the need to meet traffic goals, to have your stats go up, to please advertisers and bosses and readers, to feel pressure from all of them. But “dead woman’s body” should never have crossed a single person’s mind as a means to that end.

We know that woman’s identity — it is all over the news. And now, thanks to giant sites reposting Medina’s Facebook picture of Alfonso’s dead body, the image of her body is all over the Internet, as well. I can’t pretend to know how traumatizing it would be for her family to see that once, to know what she looked like as a dead body…but to know that hundreds of thousands of other people do, too? To know that those people have seen the lifeless corpse of your daughter, sister, cousin, friend, simply because media outlets couldn’t deny themselves the chance to post something ~*so risque*~ that it practically clicked itself?

Not that this really matters, as my opinion would be the same regardless, but I have experienced both partner and sexual violence. I remember my mother’s face the first time I told her I had been raped at 13. She cried and cried; the thought of me being punched, choked and assaulted was too much to handle. Yes, it was important that she knew what happened, but she did not need to know what my face or body looked like after. In perhaps the most egocentric thought I had about all of this, I imagined my mother seeing a photo of my bloodied figure on the ground get passed around like a meme. I almost threw up.

The spread of this image can only add pain (thus why I did not link to their individual articles, though you are welcome to seek them out yourself, as they are easy to find). Tossing pain on the family of a fucking murder victim is more than a little reprehensible — particularly for sites that supposedly condemn the spread of rape content and images praising or promoting violence against women on Facebook. Or is that only if you’re not counting those faces in your monthly traffic numbers?

To be fair, Gawker, the GIF-ers of horrific tragedies wherein dozens of people go missing or die, is a gossip site, which means you do not have some mandatory level of loyalty towards murder victims or anybody else. Shit, it’s not like I’m one to talk about being consistently nice or intelligent-sounding; I frequently make fun of people’s outfits, talk about celebrities’ love lives and make stock photo galleries of dogs wearing clothes — I do not remotely constitute a “serious journalist” who’s always covering hard-hitting news. I appreciate so many of the pieces your sites write because they often seem to express empathy for the victims of violence, hatred, harassment…so why is Jennifer Alfonso an exception?

And BuzzFeed is primarily a site meant to amuse; funny GIFs and nostalgia-filled lists are ubiquitous with its popularity. It, as well, is by no means obligated toward some sort of standard of journalistic excellence nor help for victims. But “going viral” is its business model, and by posting this photo, it is clear they knew it would go viral; by reposting it, they encouraged that spread.

Here’s the thing about posting photos of dead women on the Internet: they’re not really circulated by people who care about that human’s death, particularly not longterm. If you care about murder, you care about murder — you don’t need to see a chalk outline to prove that to anybody. We will care whether there’s no photo or a picture of that person when she was alive. Photos like these are shared by people who enjoy, or are at the very least fascinated with, seeing human beings who have really been murdered. Not horror-movie-murdered, not fake-snuff-film-murdered, but real people who once lived lives and now do not because they have had their lives taken away.

This type of viewer’s interest — or, at the very least, indifference and occasional humor — is evident in the comments that followed these photos’ postings.

And by "it," he means "the body of a woman who was murdered."

And by “it,” he means “the body of a woman who was murdered.”

Gawker

 

BuzzFeed graphic 1

Remarks regarding the killer's one-time appearance on "Burn Notice."

Remarks regarding the killer’s one-time appearance on “Burn Notice.”

BuzzFeed graphic 2

Some of the sentiments were less humorous, more saddening and resigned.

Gawker 4

I understand why it’s important to post about the news: you’re newsy sites! You have to share current events! You are often more up-to-date than nearly any other media outlets! But a photo taken by a guy who murdered his wife not twelve hours prior to your articles publishing? That is not remotely necessary to convey how horrifying it is. And to not even blur out the names of her family and friends, potentially opening them up to Internet harassment which we all know is very possible given the shitty people who exist online – that’s cruel. But I guess one of you got over 190,000 pageviews from this, and the other, likely even more. Good for you.

Last night, when I started writing this, I was angry. Now I’m just sad.

A person is not a tool. A person is not clickbait. A person is a human being, and this particular human being’s life ended yesterday. Write about her life, write about her murder, write about the reactions to it, write about the horrifying nature of it because domestic violence is so fucking important to be aware of. Write about how nearly a third of murdered women are killed by intimate partners. Write about the apathy toward these crimes. But please, please please please, do not use the face of a dead woman who never gave you permission to post it.

Best,
Sam

P.S. But really, please stop GIF-ing the moments when people die.

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  • Anonachocolatemousse

    Gawker posted this for the exact same reason as posting the photo Trayvon Martin, clickbait as you mentioned. I’ll admit I clicked on the article while I was scrolling through Buzzfeed, but by that time the photo had been removed from the article. Someone had taken a screenshot and had responded to a comment in the Facebook plugin.

    This whole situation is incredibly heartbreaking and I am saddened that “news” on the internet is passing as graphic images of a bloody body of a woman who was murdered by her husband. You can certainly report the story, even post his confession, but there was no reason to post the photo. I believe the title (without the warning) should have been enough for “pageviews.” People are strangely drawn to tragedy.

    Side note, I used to work with Neetzan Zimmerman at Cheezburger when he was the lead at The Daily What. He was a good reporter, but I’m disappointed that he would post the photo. :/

    • Samantha_Escobar

      It makes me really, really sad. I really like Neetzan Zimmerman’s articles most of the time; he seems like a highly intelligent, well-spoken person, so this disappointed me, too. :(

    • Anonachocolatemousse

      Someone once told me that he used to get anxiety when he wasn’t on the internet finding things to write about. I wonder if Gawker made him post it? I would hate to think he did it on his own.

      Thank you for writing this Samantha, it definitely needed to be said.

  • M

    I’m so happy the internet has Samantha Escobar to fight injustice with such eloquence and flair. Everything about this event is a tragedy, and hopefully once people see this piece, they will start treating it as such.

  • adamfox

    It’s not the first time I become aware of a particularly horrific, voyeuristic image or video circulating so called news sites. I can never click on them, I feel guilty and every, every time get the feeling that the site is being disrespectful. The only way of being respectful is, as you suggested, not posting it. Isn’t that the whole point of power? Knowing when not to use it? Because if you wrote that article and say that you had no choice but to post it, you know who that gives the power to? The killer who posted it in the first place. He posts it, they repost it. When the Zodiac killer sent letters to the San Francisco Chronicle detailing his intentions, they used discretion and consulted police about what would and wouldn’t be damaging to release to the public. But here, the woman is dead, so who gets hurt right? So fuck it! No. You have just given the killer the power to spread his diseased fascination with violence against a woman.

    Stephen King wrote that the reason humans slow down when we pass a car accident to look (if indeed you do that), is that it is a sad fact that if we are reminded about someone else’s mortality, by seeing death or violence, we subconsciously feel better about our own safety and state of living. It’s Psychology 101 but based in simple Jungian theory. Our shadow self who didn’t succeed where I did. Now even though this is a depressing thought and used by Stephen King to explain his readers fascination with horror, I think there is some truth to it. I believe this goes some way to explain some of the reasoning behind peoples fascination with clicking those links. But it doesn’t excuse it or excuse completely disrespectful commenting. Not just disrespecting the victim and her family, but disrespecting violence and death. Disrespect those at your own peril. I think that to be exposed to mortality is a part of life, but to willingly seek it out in a venue that offers it as casually as these sites did is just the worst karma I can imagine.

  • Eileen

    CNN is constantly on in the lunch room at work, and they flashed the image onscreen. Every one of us interrupted our happy conversation about college and drunk food to WTF at the screen.

  • guesty

    I agree that sites should not post graphic images in most cases. They may not have to adhere to the professional standards of more reputable publications, but they still have an obligation to be decent human beings. There’s nothing on earth that exempts you from having basic respect for others.

    But what I find even more disturbing are the people who click on it. There are only a handful of people responsible for the article (the author and maybe a few editors), but there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who decide to disrespect the victim by viewing it. There’s no question that it’s the audience that is fueling this behavior. The real issue here is how easy it’s become to do really horrible things without even thinking of them. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of the people who wanted to view the image didn’t even give a passing thought to the victim’s pain or suffering or the loss of a life. When people are so careless, it’s easy for them to be awful in a very passive kind of a way.