Monday, August 10, 2009

Does "Offensive" Equal "Inappropriate?" [Megan]

Considering I can barely navigate my way through making a phone call using a cell phone — let’s not even get into my “texting” deficiencies — my interest in Facebook surprises many of my friends. Granted, it’s only a novice interest. I avoid most of the “apps” because I have no clue how to use them. But it is fun to read my friends’ updates and see their latest photos.

The quizzes, however, never fail to amuse me. Things like “Find out which movie best represents you,” or “Which alcoholic beverage are you?” Just think of a topic, odds are there’s a quiz — or a poll — for you on Facebook.

One recent poll took me by surprise. The heading read, “Do you think abortion should be legalized? Yes or No.” Other than the confusing wording — abortion is already “legalized” — the subject wasn’t that surprising. Political polls pop up every now and then. But the accompanying photo was a different story. Just a thumbnail, the image wasn’t immediately recognizable. When I did recognize it, the shock factor was off the charts. There, beside the poll, was an image of the bloody, separated remains of an aborted fetus for all the Facebook world to see.

My emotional response was something of a strange dichotomy — part of me grieved deeply for that baby, and others who meet or have met the same fate. The other part wanted to stand up and applaud such a stark revelation of the truth. Curious to find out the origin of the poll, I clicked on the image, and read: THIS POLL HAS BEEN DISABLED BECAUSE IT CONTAINS EITHER OFFENSIVE CONTENT OR INAPPROPRIATE LANGUAGE AND/OR IMAGES.

My reaction? Long sigh. Can’t argue with the offensive part. Such an image should be sickeningly offensive to any and all who see it. Offensive in the way images of drug-or-drinking-related car accidents serve as an incentive to keep people from making poor decisions. Offensive in the same way stories of accidental shootings by children remind grown-ups to store their firearms safely. Offensive in the same way Emmett Till’s open-casket funeral shocked the nation with the realities of racism and prejudice. Offensive in a way that ensures such a brutal and tragic end will not be met by any more human beings.

It’s worth mentioning here that the three examples I offered, however offensive, are or were used as deterrents on a regular basis, with good ends in mind — a desired outcome that ends a kind of evil. Perhaps the difference is the desired outcome. The end of killing unborn humans would cause inconvenience for many. It would cause some to feel real pain and suffering about a decision to have an abortion. An offensive truth perhaps, but true nonetheless, in the same way that image of the result of abortion was both true and offending.

Is that what made the image inappropriate? I understand that images of violence are not necessarily suitable for audiences of a certain age and cognitive level, though it might be worth mentioning that young people are exposed to all manner of violence-depicting images while studying the history of our nation. What confuses me is how a thumbnail image of a true reality is inappropriate in comparison to a 10-year-old learning that if she were an alcoholic beverage, she would be a Sex On the Beach or a Martini. One exposure serves as a deterrent from taking the life of an innocent human being, the other gives a fourth grader bragging rights and a curiosity about the flavor and “cool factor” of a drink she shouldn’t legally consume until she’s nearly out of college.

By removing the poll, a subjective decision about the “inappropriateness” of an image was made regarding an objective and true reality.

Just something to think about.

I, for one, was grateful that more than 21,000 (according to the poll’s voting numbers) were exposed to the ugly truth before it was made unavailable.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying out loud what so many are thinking, and what so many more need to hear. A similar situation happened at a mall near Atlanta a few years back. A van owner wrapped his vehicle in images of aborted babies and parked it at the Mall of Georgia. He was cited for publicizing such "offensive" and "inappropriate" images. It's not the images, but the act of abortion itself that is inappropriate and offensive. That is what pricks the hearts of the offended. Not the picture.

  2. Thank you for your wonderful insight!

  3. The one gap in your argument is that Facebook doesn't allow ten-year-olds to have accounts. If you fixed it to a high-schooler, it isn't as strong a point. If you do find any ten-year-olds on Facebook, I suggest you report them.


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