News Column

Instagram: TMI When It Comes to Murder

Aug. 28, 2012

Jessica Van Sack, Boston Herald


After a hail of bullets erupted on a busy morning in front of the Empire State Building last week, many people found themselves with a front-row seat to the grisly crime scene, whether they liked it or not.

Some of the witnesses used Instagram, a photo-sharing platform, to capture and quickly share the shocking violence in Midtown.

With Instagram, which Facebook bought for $1 billion earlier this year, a photo of something mundane can be transformed into retro-looking art using the filters the platform offers. But the app also allows instant sharing, and can be configured to post simultaneously to a user's Facebook and Twitter feed, which is why photos of the Manhattan crime scene instantly went viral last week.

We found ourselves witnessing -- perhaps for the first time -- how this platform can illustrate raw visual reality. We never expected Instagram to become a grassroots reporting tool, a pictoral version of Twitter in Tahrir Square.

And neither did Instagram, because the app doesn't have a "crime scene" filter and there are no categories or notifications that warn users they're about to see a photo of a bloody dead body.

Instead, there was just the shocking photo of the victim who 58-year-old Jeffrey Johnson murdered in front of the Big Apple's most iconic building. Blood poured from his head in a photo posted by Instagram user ryanstrin, one of several who used the platform to show the gruesome scene.

"Was this in poor taste?" ryanstrin asked on his page. "I don't think so ... If I have to live here, I can document it however I please."

Opinions were divided on the topic. The most compelling argument came from NBC news correspondent Ann Curry. "Careful re: pictures as families cannot have been notified this quickly," she tweeted.

The prospect of a family member learning of their loved one's death by stumbling upon an image of the body on Instagram is perverse -- and so are the dozens of "likes" that these photos received from other users.

Source: (c)2012 the Boston Herald Distributed by MCT Information Services

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