The image posted on facebook, used in the media (pixelated or with an advanced warning) of a little boy washed up on a Greek beach, has become (another similar) symbol of the crisis these people are in.
The ethics of posting these photos are varied. Some will not post them. To be transparent, I have shared some of these images. We talk about dignity, about privacy. We say we do not want to objectify or further victimize the person through use of their image. There is truth to this, but there is also a danger.
People who are fleeing war and persecution (economic or other), are people. But as they flee, they become reported as something else. First of all an internally displaced person, then we apply the term migrant. Then refugee, which unless this person has been given that status, is still an asylum seeker or a failed asylum seeker. Some become stateless.
Categories are established, and whereas we need to know what the appropriate response is to each person and their particular needs, we nonetheless categorise and pigeon hole, creating a number in a system. Faceless numbers, burdens. This is dehumanizing. We continue to objectify and marginalise them. So instead of Aylan Kurdi, we have 1 of 2400 people who have drowned crossing The Mediterranean this year. And that is not so bad is it? Out of 200 000, statically, things are ok. We’re sorry about it happening, but hey, this is life.
But a picture. An image of a human. A child. Even words cannot describe him or her. Pictures transmit more than data, they strike us to our very core, emotionally and mentally. To see young Aylan Kurdi lying on the sea’s edge, his life long gone, we re-attach humanity to him and all those who are doing everything to find safety, including perilous sea crossings. I have a 4 and a 2 year old. I never want them to be in this situation, and if I am to be human, and consistent, I do not wish to see anyone else in that same situation.
When I was 8 years old I saw an image on TV of a starving Ethiopian woman and her child. You have probably seen similar images of the man-made famine in Ethiopia in the early 1980s. This image burned into my mind and is partly why I got involved in relief work, and why I now work in recovery work. Images have their place, and must be used wisely. Sometimes to not publish or distribute them is the wise choice, sometimes we must publish. We must avoid voyeurism.
But the following danger is the greatest: are you going to pretend you never saw this picture? Is that the state of your humanity? Would you prefer to dehumanize these problems?