Perspectives on
Media Research

Title chapter: Grief and pity. Investigation of the social impact of photography
Author: Fausto Colombo
Keywords: photography, social media, digital firestorms, social emotions
Abstract: The content presented in this paper is part of a larger work, aimed at describing, formalising and interpreting the model of spreading and sharing images (photographs in particular) via the Web. Starting with the story of the photos of the little Alan Kurdi, a boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015, I will describe first of all the circulation of the photos through legacy and social media, recognizing five different moments typical of so-called digital firestorms: a spark, small fires, an explosion, contagion and normalization. I then try to describe the forms of memeing the photos, transforming them into motifs shared in order to express, or provoke, passions and emotions. I will then point out the steps of cultural elaboration, through which a significant number of media users are allowed to learn Alan's story, to make sense of it in a wider context (and thus extend their knowledge of certain phenomena) and to remember the story of the child, finding a place in their personal and collective memory. Eventually, I interpret the effects of images on political choices and public opinion, in both the short and medium-to-long term. In my conclusion, I try to explain differences and analogies between the circulation of epoch-making images through legacy media and that typical of the digital media environment.
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