Stop Posting Pictures Of Strangers On Social Media

Stop Posting Pictures Of Strangers On Social Media
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Taking someone’s photo without their consent and posting it on the internet is a crappy thing to do. It’s invasive, inappropriate, and can even put the other person in danger. In a world that made any sense, this wouldn’t require further explanation. This would be a commonly understood part of the social contract.

Instead, last week alone darkened the internet’s door with stories about the insufferable #PlaneBae saga, as well as one of the more distressing Dear Prudie questions in recent memory (no small feat).

In the case of the former, Twitter user Rosey Blair spent hours live-tweeting the flirtation of two strangers sitting in front of her on a flight, complete with pictures, garnering hundreds of thousands of retweets (she later made a thirsty attempt to parlay her viral fame into a job at Buzzfeed, which should tell you everything you need to know).

In the latter, a Dear Prudie letter writer looked to be let off the hook after getting caught taking an authorised photo of an overweight colleague and “[sharing] it in an online community where we discuss the obese people in our lives”.

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The intent behind the two incidents — “Let me get some sweet RTs out of this cute love story happening between strangers!” vs. “Let me roast someone with a bunch of my arsehole friends online” — was, obviously, pretty different. But in both cases, posting the photos was a gross, borderline abusive way to treat another human being.

Again, this shouldn’t require explanation. People don’t tacitly sign a waiver agreeing to have their image, goings-on and physical location splashed all over the internet just because they dared to leave the house.

Blurring out their faces (or other identifying details) mitigates the harm a little bit, but even then, not really! Blair blurred out the faces of the couple in her Twitter thread, and the woman in the story — who, rightly, wants no part of any of this — has declined to have her name released, and since had to delete her social media profiles in an effort to protect her own privacy.

Just because you aren’t sharing a photo or video with the intent of cruelty doesn’t mean that its subject wants to be at the centre of any type of public commentary, or that the results might not be personally devastating for them.

There are obvious exceptions to this rule. Police abusing their power, Nazis and white supremacists parading in the streets, anyone who otherwise seeks to do harm to others — these people no longer deserve respectful privacy and should be aggressively documented, the better to ensure they face consequences for their actions.

But strangers going about their business should be left the hell alone. Not everyone wants to be turned into content. And not everything needs to be.


  • You have no fundamental right to privacy in public.

    Which is fortunate for street photography.

    • I don’t know Single Professional photographer that would enter a persons Image into a competition etc without their knowledge even if it was taken candidly in a public setting with the exception of war photograhers etc, maybe you’re just a dirtbag.

      It’s maybe true that we don’t have “privacy” in public spaces as people are free to observe our actions but there needs to be laws to stop people taking images of random people are publishing them.

      Just because I went to the Park to play with my Dog doesn’t give you the right to try and monetise me.

  • cant agree more JJ as a fellow photographer sometimes the best shots you get are often candid photos and on the odd occasion i do shoot street photography i can just imagine how well going up and asking someone to take their picture would translate into quality shots.

    Taking a photo to humiliate or make fun of someone online is a pretty low act and should be dealt with differently under a bullying or harassment law but for gods sake leave photography alone.

  • In both situations, the people photographed had a defined right to privacy, as well as neither case occurring at a public venue.
    Neither case falls under the street photography banner.

  • I don’t think the author was commenting about street photography or rights. It is true that there is no right to privacy in public. The one example she gives that strikes a chord with me is the live tweeting of two strangers enjoying each others company on a plane. Whilst you may argue this is a public place, they may also feel they were having a private conversation. Interestingly their conversations cannot be recorded and reproduced in many jurisdictions yet their images can. The effect of the tweeting was to make public a private conversation, the image by itself like street photography (your example) may allude to something similar but not attest to it.

    There was no art, no case it was in the public good. I commend the journalist for her tone, as she was not advocating for extensions to rights of privacy, but rather the extension of courtesy and politeness by everyone who publishes and that includes bloggers, journalists, their editors, and publishers. A little etiquette reminder, if you will, about not to take advantage of someone else for your gain.

    • That may be but the headline for the article certainly looks that way. I think it’s an interesting problem. On the one hand (almost) everyone likes their privacy but we have a right to take photos as well. Imagine the scenario where it becomes legislated that you can’t take a person’s picture without their permission.

      Sure it’ll stop paparazzi and tweets about cute couples on airplanes. However, it will also make it hellish trying to take photos of anything in public. Try taking a photo of a building or statue in a busy city without getting at least one person in the photo.

      If I was trying to make a “law” about this that it’d hinge on duration. Taking a photo or two of a person in public is OK, even without their consent. But the moment you spend more than a few minutes following and documenting them it veers into stalking territory. So in this case the first photo or two of the couple on the plane would be fine, but the drawn out story about it wouldn’t.

      I’d also like to see some sort of compensation for people who become victims (exaggerated for effect) of a popular, money making image. If a photographer shoots a photo that includes you in detail (not as a blurry figure in the background) that they sell for profit then you’re eligible for some portion as royalties.

  • …getting caught taking an authorised photo of an overweight colleague and “[sharing] it in an online community where we discuss the obese people in our lives”.I’m pretty sure that would be an unauthorised photo.

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