*I also would like to disclose that I will not be including many, if at all, of the traumatic images I am researching due to their potentially triggering nature. To search for images of the likes, start with @trauma_time on Instagram and you are sure to find yourself down the rabbit hole.*
Hey! Just before you go on, you should read this first to get you started. Welcome to Part Two of this four-part series on traumatic imagery consumption. Here you will find more insights into the motivations and incentives driving the consumption of gory injury photographs and videos online, and a little window into the world of several consumers.
First, why is this important? The web-space frequented by this type of content is immense, whereby I will herein refer to is as a legitimate marketplace. With Instagram specifically in mind, the profiles specialising in the curation of these images amount to millions upon millions of followers; an audience of notable value. This is something that I will go into more detail in Part Three, for now, it is just important we understand the vast depth of this demand for traumatic content. It is important to identify and analyse the intentions behind this market demand, due to its large size and interest, and the outcomes these motivations and markets may have. George Dallas from Harvard’s Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation urges the importance of ethical considerations in emerging markets (Dallas, 2013) that still could be applied in this instance, however dependant on the next stages of the market itself.
If you hadn’t picked up on my marketing-based approach to understanding this behaviour, you will have to please forgive me. With a marketing communications background, it was the best way for me to make sense of the topic and hopefully may encourage my marketing interest-based readership to take thought of the process. We will return to this shortly.
Delving into this topic area, I speculated several behaviour motivations of the consumers and discovered several others from my peers during a feedback session. I had in mind a general assumption that many, if not all of the audience for traumatic injury photographs would conduct the behaviour of consuming on the grounds for some form of educational purpose. I speculated that perhaps this educational reasoning for viewing the images or actively looking for them may act as a socially acceptable and easy-excuse reason for participating in the behaviour, and was interested to travel deeper. Interestingly, there were many more motivations I discovered in my research that may peak your interest.
Conducting one-on-one, informal, and unstructured interviews with four participants who engaged in the behaviour in question, I was able to construct a vignette; a window into the intentions behind their online consumption. I was fortunate enough to sit down with a senior General Practitioner (GP), two students from the medical faculty, and another student from law humanities and arts faculty; all of whom I will protect the identity of for the entirety of my findings life cycle. For the sake of readability, I shall refer to them as GP, Student A and B for the earlier students, and Student C for the latter. While this method of sampling could be bettered for more varied results, there was much, much data collected from these initial contact points, and enough to launch this interest-area into something better-understood. With me?
Motivations for engaging with the gory content included, as speculated – educational reasons from both Student A and B, whereby they confirmed their belief in learning from the resource. Student B even proposed the behaviour allowed him to become ‘desensitised’ to the gory misfortunes he was likely to face in their future career path. However, all four participants agreed that they found themselves searching for the content or stumbling upon it in a time of boredom – reverting to their Instagram feeds as a means of filling time or looking for something to consume. The GP, Student B and Student C also agreed that viewing the images sparked a sense of excitement from seeing something other than the norm in their day, feeling as if it filled a lacklustre time throughout their day. Interestingly enough, the GP found a certain satisfaction in engaging with the content to see how accurate the diagnosis may be if included as a part of the curation.
The most peculiar behaviour that arose, however, was the act of sharing these images with other like-minded consumers. All four participants stated that they had engaged at least once, if not many more times in the past by sending a ‘juicy’ post to another friend or family member on Instagram. Two of the Students likened it to the act of tagging one another in memes, while the General Practitioner compared the practice to the past Internet craze of ‘pimple-popping’ videos. Of course, this begs the question; how much of this marketplace is being shared beyond our knowledge? If we are to liken it to the process of meme propagation, “individual sharing decisions accumulate to determine total meme sharing” (Millar & Cupchik, 2014). This opens the door to a whole other world of behaviours worth investigating – however possibly almost untappable. Who else may be accessing this content?
Of course, analysis of deeper meaning into consumption behaviours would be spectacular and could amount to quite the research project. The concern? “Content isn’t fluff marketing. It’s the future of ROI.” (Patel & Puri, 2017): More on that next.
Have you ever consumed these types of images and videos? How did you get there? And what made you go there? Leave a comment below, and stay tuned for Part Three where we can go over the concerns associated.
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- Dallas, G., (2013) Business Ethics in emerging markets and investors expectation standards. Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, pp. 4-7
- Miller, I., Cupchik, G. (2014) Meme creation and sharing processes: individuals shaping the masses. Toronto: University of Toronto, pp. 1-2
- Patel, N., Puri, N. (2017) The complete guide to understanding consumer psychology. Quicksprout, pp. Chpt 3