updated 7/8/2004 8:41:16 PM ET 2004-07-09T00:41:16

Half of Americans object to the online availability of graphic war images, though millions have actively sought them out, a new study finds.

In a report released Thursday, the Pew Internet and American Life Project also found a major cultural divide: Men, Democrats and younger Americans were more likely to approve of having such images on the Web.

Television, newspapers and the Web sites of mainstream media outlets generally refrained from using the most graphic images of Iraqi prisoner abuses and the killings of Nicholas Berg and other Americans in Iraq.

But photos and even video could be readily found elsewhere — at anti-war sites, Web journals, the Drudge Report and discussion boards frequented by sympathizers of terrorist groups.

According to the study, 24 percent of adult Internet users, or 30 million people, have seen such graphic images online, and 28 percent of those people actively sought them out. That comes out to more than 8 million active seekers.

More Americans disapprove
Yet overall, Americans disapprove of the postings by a margin of 49 percent to 40 percent. Another 4 percent say approval depends on circumstances, while the rest wouldn’t say or have no opinion.

A third of the Americans who saw the images — some 10 million — regret doing so.

Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia University online media professor who is not connected with the study, said Americans aren’t always prepared for what they click, even though many links carry warnings about the images’ graphic nature.

“Our experiences on the Internet are built upon experiences with previous media,” he said. “What’s graphic in most people’s minds is a slasher movie or a Sopranos episode with a beheading. Those don’t prepare you for how graphic (these images) could be.”

More is better, but not always
Lee Rainie, director of the Pew study, said Americans generally embrace the principle that more information is better, “but once they encounter real-life applications of that principle, in many cases, they are unhappy.”

MSNBC.com cloaked the more disturbing images with a black “curtain” carrying a warning before visitors click. But the most graphic images were left off the site entirely, consistent with NBC broadcast guidelines, said Dean Wright, the site’s editor in chief.

“We want our Web site to be a place where the mainstream news consumer can feel safer,” he said.

He said a small number of visitors complained that the site was censoring the reality of war, just as a small group complained that even the moderate images were too much. But he said visitors were overall happy with MSNBC’s judgment calls.

According to the random telephone-based survey of 2,200 adult Americans, conducted May 14 to June 17:

  • Internet users approve of the images’ availability by 47 percent to 44 percent, which is within the margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Only 29 percent of non-users approve having the photos, while 58 percent disapprove.
  • Fifty-three percent of men approve, compared with 29 percent among women.
  • Fifty-two percent of adults under 30 approve, while only 31 percent of those 50 or over do.
  • Fifty-two percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents were OK with having the images, compared with 42 percent of Republicans.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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