Interview with Farida Vis: Iconic images on social media

The photo of the dead body of Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi washing up the shores of Turkey on 2 September 2015 has shaken the world: in the space of only 12 hours it was shared across over 20 million screens.

On 9 April, 2016 at the International Journalism Festival, Craig Silverman, Editor of Buzzfeed Canada, hosted a panel with Farida Vis, Director of Visual Social Media Lab, Francesco D’Orazio, Co-founder and VP Product at Pulsar, Claire Wardle from Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Carlotta Sami, Head of External Relations at UNHCR SouthEurope, to discuss the ethical dilemmas behind viral images.

“How do you create empathy and how does that lead to ethical change?” asked Farida Vis.

The panel explored how Aylan’s photo triggered a social movement and increased the search for words like ‘refugees’ and ‘migrants’ on search engines tenfold. It also looked at the social reactions during the terroristic attacks in Paris on 13 November, 2015 and in Brussel on 22 March, 2016 and the consequent trending on several platforms as events unfolded.

Speakers presented some genuine and original data to the audience about photo sharing: it explored the strategies undertaken by different media outlets and platforms, raising the issue of whether media should abide to a universal code of conduct or if, rather, each outlet is entitled to follow its own guidelines and how the public should take such decisions into account.