In his a book that shows pictures of life as the war raged in Syriasays Mr. Katan about the capture video of the boy, Mahmoud, whose older sisters, Asma’a and Nadima, disappeared after an airstrike. Asma’a was later confirmed dead. Brother Muhammad was carrying the baby and sister Bayan, whom Mr. Katan compared to a rose because of the red clothes she was wearing that day, Valentine’s Day.
There is no shortage of photos and videos from Israel and Gaza showing the suffering. In Gaza, Israel’s relentless airstrikes have killed more than 8,000 people, according to Hamas’ health ministry. Overcrowded hospitals and scarce food and water in Gaza indicated a severe humanitarian crisis. And Israelis are burying their dead and living in fear of the fate of more than 200 people kidnapped by Hamas and other Palestinian groups in the October attack.
For some, the misrepresentation and continuous circulation of footage from previous tragedies brings to mind the concept of “revictimization,” or forcing survivors to continually relive their pain.
“There are real human rights and some deep moral questions, I think, about this kind of thing,” said John Wihbey, an associate professor of media innovation and technology at Northeastern University who has studied disinformation. “As photos circulate of people who have been traumatized or who have been in horrible situations, revictimization or retraumatization occurs.”
Yet such posts—especially those that clearly distill a particular moment—manage attention because they appeal to people’s emotions. As the number of victims rises, researchers have foundcompassion may begin to fade.
“Narratives can powerfully convey understanding and emotionality that numbers cannot,” said Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon.
Mr Slovic pointed to a 2015 photograph of a Syrian toddler found face down on a Turkish beach, washed ashore after the boat carrying him and his family capsized as they tried to escape the war in Syria. Mr. Slovic and his colleagues discovered that the painting was more efficient on the motivation of the public than the grim statistics of the hundreds of thousands killed in the war. In the days after the photo gained widespread attention, Google searches about the conflict and refugees spiked, as did donations to the Swedish Red Cross Fund, the survey found.
But the introduction of misinformation around such stories and visuals, Mr. Slovic warned, could give people a reason to dismiss or ignore such evidence more broadly.
Similar concerns have been expressed by human rights experts.
Visual evidence can play an important role in building a case about human rights violations, said Sophia Jones, a researcher in the digital investigations lab at Human Rights Watch. Verification is critical and a level of skepticism is healthy, she said, but a complete lack of trust carries its own dangers.
“I think it’s absolutely fine to ask questions, and we should all ask questions. But the lack of trust in anything we see, I think is problematic because a lot of it is real,” Ms Jones added. “Horrible things are happening and it needs to be investigated.”
Hwaida Saad contributed to the reporting.