„Wow! Did you take these pics? Could we use them?“ Relations between Photo Editors and Citizen Photojournalists on Twitter – Towards a Digital Visual Ethics


The microblogging service Twitter has gained importance as an exchange platform for news photos that, in collaboration with renowned media, trigger immediate reactions from photo editors. Uploaded eyewitness material from terrorist attacks such as in Brussels (2016), Nice (2016), Munich (2016) and nature disasters such as the fires in Australia (2020) are the starting point of my investigation: Twitter conversations show that photo editors from all over the world turn to (amateur) photographers – hence citizen photojournalists – to request permission to use the images in journalistic publications. Some even sent a special “social media release form” in which they declare they recognise the copyright holder, but will not pay for the use of the images – although they want to reserve the full rights to further distribution over time, space and medium of the respective images.

The common criterion is that these are unforeseeable events such as attacks, natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods or tsunamis (Bruns & Burgess, 2014; Bruns & Hanusch, 2017). These cannot be foreseen by photojournalists: As a rule, professional photographers depict the aftereffects of the respective events. I address the status of the newsworthy digital image as an actor in changing global cultural practices and global news market dynamics. My talk fits into the Visual Culture section since it addresses participatory, ethical, and technological intersections of professional photojournalism and citizen photojournalism.

Objectives and returns

The social practice of the Sharing Economy (John, 2012, 2017) is closely linked to precarious online employment (Terranova, 2000, 2004), even if this does not (yet?) correspond to the self-image of the image producers: eyewitnesses do not regard themselves as photojournalists (Aitamurto, 2011) and therefore do not charge any fees and do not care about copyrights. One of my goals is to investigate to what extent copyright and terms of use are shaped by social media companies and journalistic needs as well as the ignorance of prosumers. Furthermore, is must be discussed how communication and trust of citizens in the media can be enhanced while they are being asked to contribute for free to global news.


This project combines methods of digital ethnography with methods of social media analytics to extract tweets about written expressions, hashtags, etc. In order to understand and reconstruct the first contact, the discussion of the terms of use, laypersons’ understanding of terms of use, etc., I conduct qualitative social research in form of in-depths interviews with picture editors and citizens about first contacts via social media and the consequences of the granted or denied use of amateur pictures. In cooperation with media law scholars, I would like to record the so-called social media usage conditions of the respective picture editors from a comparative perspective.

Topics according to CfP

inclusiveness of different voices in the media, relations between photo editors and citizen photojournalists, impact of the (image) sharing economy on journalistic practices, communication and trust of citizens in the media while being asked to contribute for free to global news, ethics in digital visual culture