The Watering Hole Blog

Please Don’t Post THAT

Please Don’t Post THAT – Dealing with Disturbing Images on Social Media


“What breaks your heart? The warrior knows that her heartbreak is her map. It will lead her toward her purpose, her tribe.”

– Glennon Doyle Melton

Okay, I’m really torn about this, so I’m just throwing it out there in this blog to get some feedback from readers. I am very curious to hear how others feel about the practice of people sharing horrific photos on their FB page, or sending a tweet, for the purpose of raising awareness about an issue.

I was ground to a halt recently when I was scrolling through Facebook. I won’t share with you WHAT I saw other than to say that it involved cruelty to an animal. It was an absolutely horrible photograph and I could not get it out of my mind for days. I was shaken to the core.

Now I happen to know the people who posted this photo – and they are huge animal lovers! In fact, their comments below the photo stated how distraught and livid they were with what had happened to this animal. They had chosen to share the graphic image as a way to bring attention to the issue of cruelty to animals.

But here’s the thing: I already KNOW people are cruel to animals. The mistreatment of animals breaks my heart. I donate to multiple SPCA’s on a regular basis. So for me, did seeing that soul-shattering photograph of an abused animal help the plight of animals in any way?

Well, that’s the thing. I would like to say NO – it did not. But honestly, I’m not so sure. Because here I am writing about a blog about it, more than a week later.

I care deeply about the welfare and treatment of animals – domestic and wild. And quite frankly, maybe if I’d allowed myself to see a few more upsetting photographs over the years, perhaps the anger from seeing those images would have translated into me taking more action that might actually lead to change for the better?

Or not.

But then get this: the day after I wrote the first draft of the above part of this blog, I was reading the Feb 2017 edition of O Magazine and came across an article that cut to the core of what’d been troubling me (talk about synchronicity!). Here’s an excerpt:

“Ask yourself: ‘What breaks your heart?’ At least once a day, I hear some version of this: ‘Oh, I can’t bear to look at that rescue dog. It breaks my heart…’ As if our hearts were meant to be returned to our maker in pristine condition! No, the heart is like any other muscle: it has to be worked, even ripped apart, in order to grow stronger. We must get familiar with heartbreak, become curious about it, because there we will find essential clues for solving the mystery of who we are intended to be.”

– Glennon Doyle Melton, “Hurts So Good,” O Magazine, Feb 2017

What breaks your heart? (and yes, it can be Trump-related)

What are your thoughts on the practice of sharing disturbing images on social media for the purpose of raising awareness about important causes?

If you see something that really upsets you, does your anger, frustration or compassion inspire you to take action in some way?  

Related blogs by Maryanne

Synchronicity – You’re Getting Warmer

Wolves in BC Need Our Help

Responding to Tragedy – Can Kindness & Compasssion Help Heal a Broken World?

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her weekly blog, please sign up here.


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6 thoughts on “Please Don’t Post THAT”

  1. Maryanne, I couldn’t agree with your more! I’m too cynical. I only believe a fraction of what is posted/shared to Facebook. I used to research the information and comment that it is fake but I gave up… too time consuming! I did see a cruelty to animals article too but didn’t open and read it. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. It used to be a good way to keep up with what my friends and family are doing. Now it seems like all I see are ads for businesses and memes that draw everyone into commenting on everything! Better end this rant! Thanks for listening!

  2. These powerful comments just came in via e-mail:

    Well, Maryanne, this required some serious contemplation.

    What breaks my heart? Child trafficking. Genocide. Animal abuse. Discovery of mass graves. Terrorism. Missing and murdered Indigenous women. Prisoners of conscience. Alberta tar sands. Bigotry. Destruction of the Amazon. A dolphin caught in a net. Hate crimes. Degradation of our oceans. Climate-change denying. The plight of whistle-blowers. And, and, and…

    I do not use social media per se so my exposure is via TV, film documentaries, newspapers, email alerts, etc. Similar process, I believe, just less bombardment.

    In countless instances, I have been moved to act because of what I’ve seen. I’m not so sure that NOT looking doesn’t do us – and those images – a disservice. Despite being exposed to stories and images that are cruel and horrific, I support freedom of speech and that includes our choice to look. Or not.

    We can hear something or we can read about it, but images impact us in a very different way. “A picture is worth a thousand words”.

    Key to this issue is intention. Are the images gratuitous in nature? Do they move us to act? That said, I do not discount for one minute the effect these images could have on those who might not be strong mentally.

    After Romeo Dallaire was forced to stand down while he watched 800,000 Rwandans being slaughtered, Peter Mansbridge asked him in an interview why he thought he was there. Dallaire thought for several moments and replied, “I was there as a witness”.

    And when we witness cruelty and are feeling helpless, try looking at it square-on and say to yourself, “Thank you for the life you lived. Your life has made a difference.” Honour that life in whatever way makes sense to you. Try dedicating your day, your blessings, your challenges, to their struggle.

    Find ways to pay your empathy forward. And often, simply lighting a candle in their honour can be something tangible.

    C.S., Calgary, AB

  3. OH WOW! Thank you SO much for this excellent and thoughtful response to my blog, “Please Don’t Post THAT.” I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to compose such a powerful and eloquent response.

    You have given me a great deal to think about. I am going to go for a hike in the woods with Sadie and ponder further. I find getting out into nature on a regular basis is so important to maintain balance and perspective!

    Big hugs to you and enjoy the rest of your Sunday,

  4. The first thing that came to my mind when I was reading your blog was the infomercials that organizations like world vision and others have made, trying to get people to sponsor a child. Most people flip a channel as fast as they can when they come across them and I have always found that quite bothersome. I feel people don’t want to see those images because they might feel guilty about not sponsoring and or about what they do spend their money on. I think it’s important to see that every once in a while because even if you can’t afford to donate at that time, it can create gratitude for the life and blessings you do have. My 7 & 9 year old boys saw one the other day that showed a 10 or 12 year old boy that had lost all family members and had no one to look after him. No uncle or grandparent and was all alone. He had to forage for spilled corn to survive. It created empathy in my boys immediately. They commented on how they felt bad for this boy. They commented on it the next day again. And expressed how bad they felt for him and how thankful they were that they had a home and family to make them feel safe. That, to me, is a mission accomplished. No, I did not sign up and sponsor another child. I already sponsor a child monthly and have for 17 years. But it gave me the opportunity to speak about it with them again. Plus it created the gratitude in them for what they do have. And it will stay with them. Who knows where and how that will come into play in the future. They may sponsor themselves, they may do more than that. It also made me think of my future business plans I have in the near future and it gave me some excitement that when I’m more successful, donating more is definitely on my want list of what to do with some of that financial successes.
    So I’d have to say I definitely disagree that those images should not be posted. I do feel they should be posted. No, no one wants to be bombarded with them, but that to me would be an indication of how much time is spent online or in front of screens. I’m not sure on stats but I’m sure there’s some number of times a message needs to be heard before the average person responds to it. So again I feel that it’s important to see and hear about issues to help with funding so that these organizations can continue to provide the help that’s needed, no matter the issue. And we all have the free will to help where and when we do. I think by not seeing the images and listening to the stories is a head in the sand situation.

    Another thought that came to my mind while reading your blog was how several years ago when I was a 4-H leader of a dog and horse multi club, I organized for the kids to have a tour of a local humane society, and had one parent say she would not let her child go because she didn’t want her to see what went on in there. I was appalled!!! What goes on there is kindness. Period. That was a head in the sand example. Let’s shelter our children and pretend things like this don’t happen and also do nothing to help. (Sarcasm) the other more reasonable parent did step in and let the child attend on the grounds that if the rest of the club was going their child would go to and I took her with me so that the parent didn’t have to ‘see what goes on there’!

    The ‘What breaks your heart?’ article sounds like it’s probably spot on, in my opinion.

    So to answer your questions on whether seeing those images inspires me to help or donate, my answer most definitely is yes it does. Right now I don’t have a tone of extra cash to donate so I have chosen to donate some of my time to my nearest humane society and take some dogs out for walk whenever I can get to town to do so. It’s not a lot but it makes a few dogs happy for a short time and breaks up their day. Plus I am constantly being watched by 3 children and know that they learn by example. So I’m trying to constantly improve in those areas. There is always room for improvement.

  5. Oh boy…do you ever raise some excellent points, Jackie. I think that is wonderful that your kids reacted with such gratitude after seeing a boy on TV struggle just to survive with no family. That is a real testament to how you are raising your children! As for dog-walking at the SPCA, I think that is beautiful that you do that – and yes, you are right: you have improved the day of a few dogs and that is worth its weight in gold. In some ways, life is so much easier when we stick our heads in the sand on important issues. But in the end, it’s not a rich life – just one of avoidance.
    Thank you for taking the time to write such a heartfelt response,

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