There can be significant information value in digital material coming from war and conflict zones, e.g. content shared on social networks. This is especially the case when access to such areas is limited or even impossible, and there are no journalists on the ground. In such cases, reporting journalists have to rely on digital content, coming from eyewitnesses or others who share respective materials.
Despite having information value at times, digital materials - especially content from war and conflict zones - can also be highly disturbing and potentially traumatizing. This is especially so with digital content coming from e.g. the war in Ukraine, Syria or other places. Particularly disturbing at times: images and videos that show injury, pain, destruction and suffering in various forms and guises.
Going through digital material in the process of respective analysis, verification and subsequent reporting can take its toll on the mental well-being of journalists and digital investigators. It can even cause secondary or vicarious trauma, meaning trauma not caused from direct physical encounter or exposure, but relayed via another party or medium.
It is important that both investigators and media managers are aware of potential dangers and do whatever necessary and possible to avoid vicarious trauma, or at least keep negative consequences for mental well-being as low as possible. That is also why appropriate handling and coping mechanisms should be known and in place before anyone is placed in front of a computer screen as an investigator.
Below is some advice for journalists and investigators who have to deal with digital audiovisual material coming in particular from war and conflict zones. However, it can also be considered as general advice for almost anyone who moves online frequently and is at risk of encountering potentially traumatizing imagery.
What has been listed above is just some basic advice. It also partly depends on how you work where (e.g. freelance on your own vs. in an organisation's newsroom and respective structures). If you want to dive deeper, the resources provided below are recommended for further reading.
Above all: try and stay healthy, guard your mental well-being, do not take these matters lightly and - if you are negatively affected - do not feel ashamed of it but speak up and seek help.
Author: Jochen Spangenberg (DW).