These images were harder to avoid on the platform, according to some users, in part because they were shared from accounts that had paid to be verified — an option introduced under owner Elon Musk that can elevate the visibility of a user’s tweets.
Jennifer Mascia, a CNN contributor and senior news writer at The Trace, a non-profit journalism outlet devoted to gun-related news, said the images “were unavoidable.” She added: “I was shocked that that video and those images stayed on Twitter as long as they did… In a different era of Twitter, they wouldn’t have been circulating, they would have been taken off immediately.”
Twitter, which has cut much of its public relations team, did not respond to a request for comment.
The apparent spread of these images has revived scrutiny around how social media platforms handle graphic content from mass shootings. Social media platforms typically have policies that restrict sharing graphic content, with certain exceptions. On Twitter, for example, users are technically prohibited from sharing content that shows “gratuitous gore,” a category that includes “dismembered or mutilated humans.” Other forms of graphic media may be allowed, as long as the user marks their account as sensitive.
But it has also reignited a larger debate around the potential value of sharing graphic pictures to shape the public discourse at a time when mass shootings happen regularly in the United States.
The attack on Saturday was the second-deadliest US mass shooting of the year so far. Eight people were killed and at least seven others wounded when a gunman opened fire at the outlet mall in Allen, Texas, according to local officials.
Mascia, meanwhile, said she was “shocked at how many people” were debating the merits of posting such pictures. Some, she said, may not have wanted to post the images themselves but also felt that “maybe it’s time we have to talk about this.”
The reckoning over whether to show the public gruesome images of violent acts dates back decades in the United States. In 1955, an image of a murdered Black teenager was published in Jet Magazine at the urging of his mother.
More recently, the debate reemerged as Americans reacted with shock and horror to the deadly school shooting that took place less than a year ago in Uvalde, Texas.
Boardmen added in his tweet at the time that he “couldn’t have imagined saying this years ago,” but argued that by showing the public these images, “Maybe only then will we find the courage for more than thoughts and prayers.