New Zealand All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams recently visited the refugee settlements in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley as a U.N. Children's Fund ambassador. During his time traveling with the organization, the athlete met with a number of families who fled their homes in Syria to seek safety.
However, almost an entire month after his return from the refugee camps, Williams shared an explicit image on Twitter to draw people’s attention to the predicament of the 1.2 million refugees.
“What did these children do to deserve this?” he tweeted on Tuesday, along with an image of two bloodied and disfigured dead children. “This summer share a thought for the innocent lives lost every day in war.”
The tweet was sent out to his 550,000 followers and made the sports star the focus of both support and anger. While some social media users have lauded Williams for drawing attention to the problem, others criticized him for positing “such a gruesome image” without any trigger warnings.
@SonnyBWilliams a little too much don't you think?— Olivia Wall (@oliviaKwall) December 29, 2015
I support what @SonnyBWilliams did. What is there to censure? The truth must be revealed. No one should be scared of the truth— Dib Taleb (@The_Nonpareil) December 30, 2015
If @SonnyBWilliams tweet made you feel uncomfortable and talk about Syria's most vulnerable, then good, that was the point. Well done SBW.— Mike McRoberts (@MrMikeMcRoberts) December 29, 2015
Recommended: A Year In The Life Of Syrian Refugees
Can understand why @SonnyBWilliams wanted to share those pics. Sometimes you want to shock the world into caring. Doesn't always work though— Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) December 30, 2015
@SonnyBWilliams thank you for your honest words & brave photos. I'm personally glad I saw the reality of this.— Soraya Lane (@Soraya_Lane) December 29, 2015
UNICEF reporting guidelines dictate children have a right to privacy and control over how they are portrayed by the media even after their death, which is why the organization has distanced itself from Williams.
“This is not a UNICEF process. We didn’t take those images, he wasn’t with us when those images were taken, he didn’t take those images, he didn’t see that on his trip to Lebanon with us, and certainly he didn’t consult with us before posting those images,” stated organization’s New Zealand spokesman Patrick Rose. “We’re as surprised — and I think disturbed — as everyone by seeing these images posted.”
He said that while it is a fundamental infringement of those children's rights, UNICEF does not have the capacity to “censor or edit private citizens' showing what they find on their individual explorations online.”
Meanwhile, William has not taken down the controversial post from this Twitter account.
There is no questioning the fact that he should have added some sort of warning for his unassuming social media followers. However, the images and the message itself was a much needed reminder that these young children are experiencing more darkness than anyone should ever have to in a lifetime.
Watch Sonny Bill Williams visit Syrian refugee settlements in the video below: