From Ferguson, Missouri, to North Charleston, South Carolina, and Madison, officer-involved deaths have gotten national attention recently.While officer-involved deaths are nothing new, how the public and officials view them is.
With the saturation of cellphone photos and video, confrontations involving police officers are increasingly being viewed by the public.
The impact those images have on the public is much greater than written accounts.
“People are visual creatures. You know when they say that a picture is worth a 1,000 words, I think they undersell that expression. A picture is worth 10,000 words. Pictures bring out emotions that the printed word doesn’t,” said Steve Noll, a marketing professor at Madison College.
Cellphone video of deadly confrontations between police and individuals in Staten Island, New York, North Charleston and Baltimore has touched off nationwide protests. The wide-ranging response was driven by social media.
“In the past when an incident like this would happen it would be a local tragedy and only people in a set geographic region would be exposed to a story. Now with things like Facebook and Twitter you don’t have a set geography, you have a set likeness. They call it the hive collective,” Noll said.
Noll said the speed with which images and information can spread on social media is also a double-edged sword. The speed makes it challenging to vet images and information to assure accuracy and context.
In the case of something as emotional as an officer-involved shooting, accuracy and proper context are essential.
“When you think about that, you have a really provocative or emotional picture that can be out and be shown thousands of times in less than a half hour without people understanding what that is,” Noll said. “You have to make sure that they are directing that in the proper way and not trying to explode a story just because they have nothing to do but click and share pictures. That’s the dark side of social media.”