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  • What are our ethical responsibilities as producers and consumers of images?

What are our ethical responsibilities as producers and consumers of images?

“A photo is worth a thousand words.”  We all make use of photos and other images to communicate and understand our history, our world, and ourselves.  We also use images for entertainment and for artistic expression.  Photos and other images can be insightful, revealing, and beautiful, but they can also be hurtful, misleading, and inappropriate.  Are there any guiding principles that we can rely upon to help us make wise decisions about when to take a photo; how to take a photo; when to share a photo; where to share a photo; how to view a photo; and what conclusions we should draw upon viewing a photo?

Using photos to tell a story raises a host of thorny ethical issues.  Although these issues are most obvious when the photographer is a journalist, with a professional responsibility for getting accurate and news worthy stories to us in a timely manner, these issues pertain to all of us, whether we are producers or consumers of images.

For example, taking photos of the dead is something most of us shy away from, but is it ethically wrong to do so?  Is it a mere matter of taste or convention, or is there actually something ethically wrong about taking and sharing photos of the dead? 

Is it wrong to share unflattering photos on social media if there’s a chance it will hurt someone?  Is it acceptable to share or use a photo or other image when it could be misleading?  Is it acceptable for you to share a photo that will tell a story before you have determined that the photo tells the true story? Is it always acceptable to edit photos before sharing? 

As consumers or viewers, do we have any ethical obligations to analyze a photo before buying into the story it suggests?  That is, should we investigate the background story before believing the story suggested by the photo?

In the following video, experts in the WVU Reed College of Media provoke discussion of these issues.  Scroll way down to the bottom of the page to contribute your own ideas, examples, and questions in the blog.  THE QUESTION promotes a vibrant intellectual culture of learning, exploration, and inquiry.