Graphic Images and Videos happen to be my most passionate area of research as I think its the most overlooked. IMHO it should not be and here’s one example why…
During the week of 1-6th December 2015, the National Crime Agency decided it was going to take a seemingly “Clockwork Orange” approach to a new campaign for the Cocaine drug trade. The NCA decided that it would be okay to place some photographs of the horror of this trade (outside of the UK from Columbia), which contained (among others) images of a severed head and arms, a set of dead blood-covered bodies, a further set of dead bodies and a young child covered in blood on social media for anyone to see, sorry that’s not exactly how it happened. They posted some photographs onto Facebook and were convinced that by posting a warning that said “Warning Graphic Picture” and limiting the post to 18+ that this would resolve the issue of the pictures being seen by anyone under 18. Of course.
However, there are some major issues here for me as a Psychotherapist, Human, Mother and student in Neuroscience research. Firstly, writing the sentence “We realise these may be upsetting images BUT…its vital to tell the truth” Does not absolve the NCA from posting these images and the damage they can do. It is also a phrase often used by people (in Psychotherapy & relationships) to justify their defensive position. This is because they know deep within themselves that their actions are not really that okay and in this case ethical?
Secondly, it is not okay to post images that are graphic to people over 18 any more than it is to under 18 years of age. This is because the NCA have no way (at all) of knowing who is going to see these images around the world and what those people have within themselves to cope with the images. Moreover having a warning on that the images are graphic would be great IF a) you had a choice about clicking on the image IF you wanted to and B)…you didn’t have the image directly underneath this warning. Because of how our eyes and brains work we automatically read words and have something called peripheral vision which when in a heightened response state, which would indeed be caused by the words WARNING means that our pupils expand and are able to take in much more information and detail (its part of our survival mechanism and is supposed to work like this!)
So not only are people more acutely aware of the content of the images due to the above reasons there are those with less ability to cope, that is; some people are not resilient, they may have served in the Forces (Military, Emergency or Online) and be hypersensitive to those images, or be PTSD sufferers. (I will gladly speak with the NCA about this topic so they can get a full understanding of how the brain is hyper-reactive to these kinds of images, the damage it can do and the setbacks it can cause which are phenomenal to people who suffer with PTSD symptoms). In short, these people from ALL over the world can see these images and they can be shared and re-shared as this is the power of social media. Therefore these images may well be affecting people outside of the UK also. That is an extremely large responsibility to carry for a campaign that claims it is vital, to tell the truth?”
Furthermore and thirdly, to even think naively for one moment that under 18’s would not see these images highlights the probable lack of real psychological and ethical discussions that went before the sharing of these images. Even if it is necessary that people understand the drug trade and all of the evil behaviours that accompany it, it is NOT okay for the NCA to be the vehicle that decides when/what/who/which under 18’s (and over) should see of theses horrors and graphic images. This is why…
The Under 18’s brain is still growing, forming its architecture and connecting the social and narrative sides together to become a fully formed adult brain. It is NOT therefore fully resilient as an adult to the horror that these images can bear upon this maturational process. It is again not possible to know which under 18’s are capable of bearing the true horror of these images, nor their ability to cope. The ones who are not resilient become traumatised and what we do know about this traumatised brain is; this impacts the growth, ability to communicate, ability to pay attention, contain nightmares, maintain their emotional regulation, listen, read non-verbal communication, maintain relationships with peers and adults, inhibit risk-taking behaviours and play gratification. You know, the things that get children into trouble with families friends, school and the law?
I am shocked that the NCA has not apologised in a meaningful way for these images, more so removed them, further adding to the ever-growing possibility that these can continue to affect a growing number of people. I understand the NCA did not purposefully intend to traumatise people, did they? Was this the intention? If so why? (this feels more like a publicity stunt that wannabe celebs pull?) I do not know if this blog will be seen by anyone in the NCA who can really take a good look at the actions and the impact that I have depicted above. I am aware that it has been said that the NCA did not consult with children organisations before posting the images, however, even if they did, I wonder if they knew about trauma and the brain in this way?
Perhaps an education around these issues would be helpful as I am aware that the Police themselves have many officers who suffer from these kinds of reactions to trauma. In that case, I am here for discussions and the education.
One more point to note is that images like this rarely have the impact intended (the probable original one of shocking people to think about their actions when using, dealing or otherwise in the drug trade), I would suggest reading the neuroscience of torture and why this doesn’t work for those officers who want to learn a little more about this. If the NCA continues to share images like this in future it may well have the opposite effect due to the desensitisation process and how this works. i.e. people may be desensitised to those images (rendering the impact of them null by the way) This whole campaign needed much more thought around it.
I wonder how many children or adults cannot sleep tonight after seeing those images?