WASHINGTON - About 10 percent of Americans have viewed online images of the Iraq war that mainstream media have deemed too gory to display, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported recently.
"People wanted to see the unadorned truth," said Lee Rainie, director of the project. "Folks who think the mainstream press doesn't cover all of it ... use the Internet to supplement. Other folks are morbidly curious."
The Pew telephone study was conducted from mid-May to mid-June, after some of the most tumultuous times of the war, including the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, the gruesome killings of four American contractors near Fallujah and the beheading of U.S. citizen Nicholas Berg.
Finding the images
About 70 percent of viewers stumbled on the graphic images, while the rest sought them out.
Americans disagreed about whether the information should be available on the Internet.
Nearly half of Americans disapproved of the images, while 40 percent approved.
"Many who ... venture outside the traditional and familiar standards of the mainstream news organizations to look at the images online end up feeling very uncomfortable," said Deborah Fallows, senior research fellow at the project and co-author of the report.
Industry experts said the study's results were unlikely to affect the way traditional media present the news.
"The fact that so many were not happy once they encountered [the gory images] is not a bad validation of the norms of the newsroom," Rainie said.
"I don't think editors are going to jump at the opportunity ... to include more graphic images," said Steve Yelvington, Internet strategist for Morris Communications, a media company based in Augusta, Ga.. "The center of gravity of society isn't the part that's looking at offensive images on [the] Internet."
Yelvington said media aim to serve the average consumer.
"Newspapers are fairly conservative in terms of not wanting to offend people in the family newspaper," Yelvington said.
The Pew study found demographic patterns in people's attitudes toward the graphic images online.
Only 29 percent of women approved of the graphic images, compared to 53 percent of men.
"Women, probably as a group, are more sensitive than men are," Rainie said. "They're more worried about the long term impact of bad things - bad events, bad images."
Also, 47 percent of Internet users approved of the availability of information, while only 29 percent of non-Internet users did.
Rainie said Internet users value information.
They "think information and knowledge are power," Rainie said. "Destiny and fate aren't in control of their lives, they are. Access to lots of information is part of their general mindset."
The project also found younger people were more likely to approve of the availability of images than older people.
That may be true "partly because [younger people] are used to technology," Rainie said. "They like the idea they can get access. They're more adventurous, more tolerant and more curious."
Wealthier, more well-educated respondents also were more likely to approve of the content, the study found.