The way we interpret a message and place meaning on what an image represents can be influenced what you know and believe. This can fuel online flame wars, vitriolic back and forth between internet users. This pattern due to the ease of voicing your opinion on the internet (sigh) brings new definition to semiotics and power to the medium of an image. Semiotics can currently be described as the relationship between one’s personal interpretation of an image and the literal meaning of an image.
A very recent example of this is the image uploaded to Twitter of a Muslim woman walking past injured whilst on her mobile in the aftermath of London’s most recent terror attacks. This picture was uploaded and tweeted by user South Lone Star, with the caption “Muslim woman pays no mind to the terror attack, casually walks by a dying man while checking phone” along with the hashtags #PrayforLondon and #BanIslam.” The lack of context presented with this picture, only the interpretation of one Twitter user, sparked controversy with furious debate erupting all over social media.
Your stance on Islam (how sad we must have one) is going to depend on how you interpret this image. If you are Islamophobic you are going to interpret this picture like South Lone Star. I personally interpreted the picture at the time reading her face to be of fear, worry and panic.
The literal meaning behind the picture was not found out until a couple of days later, when the Muslim woman signified came forward and told her story behind the picture. She said she was devastated that image of her was being taken out of context. The woman told TellMamaUK:
“I’m shocked and totally dismayed at how a picture of me is being circulated on social media. To those individuals who have interpreted and commented on what my thoughts were in that horrific and distressful moment, I would like to say not only have I been devastated by witnessing the aftermath of a shocking and numbing terror attack, I’ve also had to deal with the shock of finding my picture plastered all over social media by those who could not look beyond my attire, who draw conclusions based on hate and xenophobia. My thoughts at that moment were one of sadness, fear, and concern. What the image does not show is that I had talked to other witnesses to try and find out what was happening, to see if I could be of any help, even though enough people were at the scene tending to the victims. I then decided to call my family to say that I was fine and was making my way home from work, assisting a lady along the way by helping her get to Waterloo station. My thoughts go out to all the victims and their families. I would like to thank Jamie Lorriman, the photographer who took the picture, for speaking to the media in my defence.”
Now the literal meaning behind the picture is provided, the negative and positive connotations placed on the picture by South Lone Star, many others and myself show how biased we can be due to our morals, upbringing and beliefs.