When the Associated Press published Julia Le Duc's photograph of a drowned Salvadoran man, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, and his 23-month old daughter Valeria, it sparked outrage on social media. According to Le Duc, Ramírez had attempted to cross the Rio Grande after realizing he couldn't present himself to U.S. authorities to request asylum.

But beyond raising awareness via Twitter and Facebook feeds, does an image like this one have the power to sway public opinion or spur politicians to take action?

As journalism and psychology scholars interested in the effects of imagery, we study the ability of jarring photos and videos to move people from complacency to action. While graphic imagery can have an immediate impact, the window of action – and caring – is smaller than you'd think.

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When I found out I was pregnant in October 2018, I had planned to keep the news a secret from family for a little while — but my phone seemed to have other ideas.

Within just a few hours of finding out the news, I was being bombarded with ads for baby gear, baby clothes and diapers on Facebook, Instagram and pretty much any other site I visited — be it my phone or on my computer.

Good thing my family wasn't looking over my shoulder while I was on my phone or my secret would have been ruined.

I'm certainly not alone in feeling like online ads can read your mind.

When I started asking around, it seemed like everyone had their own similar story: Brian Kelleher told me that when he and his wife met, they started getting ads for wedding rings and bridal shops within just a few weeks. Tech blogger Snezhina Piskov told me that she started getting ads for pocket projectors after discussing them in Messenger with her colleagues. Meanwhile Lauren Foley, a writer, told me she started getting ads for Happy Socks after seeing one of their shops when she got off the bus one day.

When online advertising seems to know us this well, it begs the question: are our phones listening to us?

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