Accepted Paper:

Through the Sensationalist Gaze: The Dissonance of the Human Image in Humanitarian Social Media  

Author:

Matthew Mahmoudi (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

As social media transfers the once esoteric task of producing information to victims of human rights violations, it is easy to estimate the dawn of a new form of civic participation, promising further democratisation and empowerment. It would be a mistake, however, not to consider the ongoing fetishisation of “smart” technologies as problematic; often taken at face value and as political ends in and of themselves.

Paper long abstract:

One characteristic of this larger problematik is the ramifications of the active manipulation, suppression or disregard of the human element in human rights and humanitarian media. It is no less true that a dividend of the digital era and social media has been the affordance for civilian-generated social media imagery (footage or photography); nevertheless, the same technologies that grant access to these spaces, also allow parties such as NGOs and celebrities to take ownership of civilian narratives and subject them to the economy of the media, marking a moment which continues the historical iconographication of suffering.

What are the caveats of the persistent mediation and translation - or “packaging” - of civilian-produced social media, by NGOs and celebrities? Are contemporary practices culpable for generating a public dissonance of the true human image of suffering and despair? Is human rights social media guilty of constructing a sensationalist gaze? This essay explores social media - or ICT4HR - as not simply a force for mobilising change, but also as a process by which certain power structures are normalised, and narratives are colonised.

Panel P091
Anthropologies of witnessing: imaginaries, technologies, practices