Afghanistan Planning to Stone Adulterers to Death: Al Jazeera Coverage – Official Website vs. Facebook Page

Twelve years ago ended Taliban rule in Afghanistan, but recent draft changes to the penal code are bringing back memories of those dark days. The Afghani government is considering reinstating the stoning to death of adulterers. Quite fittingly, Al Jazeera covered this story on all of their networks. I am specifically going to looks at the difference between their official Al Jazeera website story and what they put on their Al Jazeera English Facebook Page.

Let’s start with the fact that this story even made it to Al Jazeera’s Facebook Page.  All stories Al Jazeera cover go up on their website, but only a select few go up on Facebook each day. Each post on facebbok links back to the website if people want to read the full story, but again, only so many get that extra promotion.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 4.12.27 PM

On their website, the story is not front page news. It if filed under the Central and South Asia tab and is not even on the front page of that tab. As of Nov. 25th, 2013, it finds itself in the “What’s Hot” column down the page on the right side along with various other stories. The questions bears, why would a story that is buried on their website be front page on Facebook?

While the website is general for all consumers, the Facebook page is specifically directed for the Al Jazeera English audience. Most of Al Jazeera English’s audience and the people who like that Facebook page reside in the United States. Facebook also attracts an audience that may not actively go to the website by themselves. Keeping these points in mind, Al Jazeera is ultimately using their Facebook page to being people to the website. That is why every post ends with “Read more” and links to the article. 

To get the Facebook audience to click the links and end up at the website, Al Jazeera has to post stories on Facebook that will grab the attention of the most users. A story about stoning people who cheat is quite shocking to the average North American who would only imagine that as something of the past. The fact that they only post the lede on Facebook, also helps to make people click the link. This is my guess as to why this article ended up where it did on the Facebook page.

Facebook picture for article

Facebook picture for article

Another difference between the Facebook post and the website article is the use of different pictures. The picture on Facebook is of women and children presumably looking out over Afghanistan. Accompanied by the caption, “Afghanistan plan to stone adulterers to death,” one might subconsciously or consciously associate the stoning with who we deem to be the most vulnerable in society: women and children.

The picture on the website is of Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai. He is speaking to a crowd and looks remarkable unthreatening.  The photo is posted with the caption, “Human rights groups have called on President Karzai to reject the plan EPA.”

Website article picture

Website article picture

It would appear that the pictures are different for the same reason the article made it to Facebook – the shock value. Seeing the women and children would further encourage Facebook users to click. If already on the website, Al Jazeera has a chance to post a photo with less shock. They chose a picture of the one man who can make it so that this revision never comes into being. Visually showing Karzai in the article may be adding more pressure on him to make the “right” decision.

Matheson wanted us to be aware of the mechanics of manipulation and this we have pointed out some of those mechanics. By the use of particular mediums, pictures and captions, Al Jazeera is successfully able to draw people in to certain stories and emphasize different aspects. This doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is bad, but we should be aware of it.

Do you notice any other drastic differences between the mediums? Let me know in the comments!


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