A picture allegedly showing Ohio State University attacker Abdul Razak Ali Artan dead has gone viral online, sparking controversy over the graphic image and the reporting of news in real-time.
Artan was identified as the Somali-American student who allegedly plowed his car through a crowd of students on the OSU campus before exiting the vehicle and using a butcher knife to continue the attack. Police then shot and killed the suspect.
The attack on the Ohio State campus played out on social media, with many students sharing photos from inside classrooms that were locked down during the attack as well as the aftermath of the attack itself.
One of the most-shared photos was one allegedly showing suspect Abdul Razak Ali Artan dead on a campus sidewalk.
A censored version of the photo can be seen below, in the left half of the photo spread that also included the university police officer who reportedly fired the fatal shot and ended the attack.
UPDATE Suspect dead in shooting at Ohio State University https://t.co/3FbPdpW3ZW v— CC (@ChristiChat) November 28, 2016
But the photo of an allegedly dead Abdul Razak Ali Artan also sparked controversy over whether spreading such a graphic image — especially before the suspect had been identified — was appropriate. Many news outlets that used the Twitter screenshot chose to censor the image, which does not actually show the suspect’s face. Others showed it just as it appeared on Twitter.
The decision on whether to show graphic images from attacks has generated plenty of discussion in media circles. While some news outlets choose to leave out the more graphic pictures, others believe they are an essential piece in telling the story.
As The Atlantic reported in 2013, American media has actually grown more reserved in publishing violent images.
“The American press was not always so squeamish. A number of studies suggest that the media have grown less likely to publish explicitly violent images in recent decades, even as fictional portrayals of violence in film and video games have intensified. The retreat from graphic photography seems partly the result of increased timidity about offending the audience: Overall, Americans say that they disapprove of the dissemination of graphic war images. And because consumers do not want grisly images, neither do advertisers.”
But the citizen journalism that dominates social media during events like Monday’s attack at OSU adheres by no such standards, which itself can raise issues of accuracy. In the wake of the Ohio State attack, many media outlets initially reported that the suspect was a man named Ali Muhammad, but police later confirmed that it was Abdul Razak Ali Artan.
The politically charged nature of the attack added to the issues that surrounded its reporting. Many right-leaning outlets claimed that mainstream media outlets were avoiding reporting on the suspect’s nationality or history — he was identified by NBC News as a Somali-American who left his homeland in 2007 at the age of either eight or nine, then lived in Pakistan before moving to the United States in 2014. Abdul Razak Ali Artan was a legal permanent resident of the United States, officials said.
Abdul Razak Ali Artan was evidently motivated by reactionary religious hatred. MSM doesn't want to talk about it. https://t.co/40CIbCG68z— Chad Nagle (@neveruyushchii) November 28, 2016
There was also debate over whether the OSU campus attack should be considered an act of terrorism. While police used caution in how they characterized the attack as the investigation was still ongoing, some right-leaning media outlets termed it an act of terrorism and The Associated Press noted that terrorism was “suspected” to be the motive for the attack.
As the controversy over pictures of an apparently dead Abdul Razak Ali Artan continued to spread, more pictures popped up showing the dead suspect surrounded by investigators. Many of the pictures appeared to be taken by students on campus when the attack happened (one of the uncensored images — which also does not show the suspect’s face — can be seen here).
[Featured Image by John Minchillo/AP Images]