True Crime

Empire State Building Shooting: There’s No ‘Crime Scene Filter’ on Instagram

The politics of photo-sharing in the summer of the gun.
instacrime Empire State Building Shooting: Theres No Crime Scene Filter on Instagram

Don’t do this.

Around 9 a.m. Friday 53-year-old Jeffrey Johnson, a former accessories designer with Hazan Imports, shot and killed a 41-year-old former co-worker. Reports from the scene indicate the shooter was confronted by police outside the Empire State Building and was killed when he opened fire. At least nine others were injured during the shootout.

Every smartphone owner in the vicinity began tweeting about the drama, many uploading photos taken on the fly–to Twitter and, perhaps more strangely, Instagram.

Instagram even posted a blog entry highlighting some of the photos taken at ground level and from offices several stories above the scene. Some of the photos circulating online, including those on Instagram, were gruesome. One particularly disturbing shot, evidently taken from high above the scene, showed a partially nude body surrounded by police personnel, lying in a pool of blood.

Posting witnesses’ and bystanders’ amateur smartphone pics of unfolding and newsworthy events may by now seem encoded in Twitter’s DNA. Although this exchange between Anil Dash and Jeff Jarvis proves not everyone is willing to accept such horrible content. After Mr. Jarvis tweeted a link to a photo (warning: it is a graphic photo) taken by a Twitter user with the pungent handle @yoassman, Mr. Dash objected that there was no warning about the nature of the image.

But there’s something slightly surreal about uploading your hastily-shot iPhone pic of a bloody white sheet over a mysterious shape on the sidewalk to Instagram. More than Twitter and many other social media networks, Instagram is built upon a kind of Silicon Valley-born rosy worldview that seeks to filter our world, lift us for a moment out of the mundane. Instagram is where you post your child’s senior prom pics and photos of your artfully-rendered fruit salad. It has built its reputation with forced nostalgia, with manufactured hipness. Instagram wistfully washes hasty iPhone snaps with a pleasant sense of time gone by. There would be something comic about the concept of crime scene photos on Instagram if the reality wasn’t so horrific.

Instagram seems to have signaled they want it both ways: to let us prettify memories as if we’re living in a hazy, bygone era but also have a Tahrir Square news moment in the spotlight.

Follow Steve Huff via RSS. shuff@observer.com