There was a time not long ago when part of a post office’s décor featured pictures of men and women who were evading capture by the police. While waiting in line, customers could see law enforcement’s “most wanted.”

The daily newspaper would also print these photographs for public purview, that is before news websites came of age where these galleries found a new home and more “eyes.”

The Calamitous Consequences of Clickbait

Today, mug shots, as they are commonly known, are becoming fodder for newspaper sites seeking to increase their ad revenue-generating “clicks.” The most compelling images feature faces that feature bloodshot eyes, tearstains, tattoos, or bruises. Every so often, the alleged criminals sneak in a smile for the camera.

Pictures on walls and in newspapers eventually get thrown out. Putting them on the internet make mugshots a permanent part of history and a source of shaming. What may just have been the worst day in the lives of suspects are preserved for posterity, forcing media companies to rethink the longtime practice.

After all, these individuals are still innocent until proven guilty. Yet, the mugshot stigma shows them as hapless or hardened criminals. What one journalism professor called “a digital scarlet letter” can go viral for all the wrong reasons, often getting the attention of prospective or existing employers.

One by one, prominent publishers are ending online mugshots, even if it costs them page views. In addition to the humiliation these people suffer, many papers may be giving residents and visitors the idea that their community has a problem with crime.

While some may still hold on to the “public record” argument, many more claim that they are just trying to do the right thing.