What do you do if you’re at a party and one of your friends starts taking pictures? Do you accept that anything you do at the event might end up on Facebook or Instagram? Do you reluctantly squeeze into the back of the group selfie?
Or do you ask your friend if they could maybe not include you—your face, your kids’ faces, the joke you made that they are itching to tweet—in whatever social media post they’re currently drafting?
We’re living in an environment where many people feel both pressured and excited to share every aspect of their lives online, whether to connect with far-flung loved ones, build their career/brand, or simply tell a continuous story about the way they experience the world.
But that continuous story often involves other people’s stories—and what do you do if you don’t want your story to become part of someone else’s social media feed?
One option is to lie low when the phones come out. Time your bathroom visits so you miss the group selfie; mess up the garnish on your cocktail or entree so it is no longer Instagrammable. Wear a hat and sunglasses to avoid facial recognition algorithms (though that isn’t always enough to fool the software).
You can also update your Facebook settings so its facial recognition algorithms won’t automatically track you, and set any tagged Facebook images to “review” status, meaning you’ll get to decide whether or not they appear on your timeline.
Of course, you can’t decide whether those photos will appear on other people’s timelines, or whether that one weird picture of you will get screenshotted into a meme.
Which means that if you really want to stay out of other people’s social media narratives, you’ll probably have to talk to them about it.
Or at least text them.
At The New York Times, Hayley Phelan interviews both influencers and experts on how to navigate these conversations. Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters (one of my favourite books of 2018, for the record), suggests taking the lead by inviting friends to social-media-free gatherings:
Ms. Parker recommends letting guests know earlier rather than later that it will be a social-media-free event. “An invitation is the opening salvo of a social contract,” she said. “‘This is what this thing is this time around. These are the terms. Are you in?’ It’s much easier than policing the room.”
If you’re not the one hosting and can’t set the terms of the event’s social contract, you can still negotiate that contract either one-on-one or with the whole group. A whispered “no photos of me today, please.” A quick message to the group text before the event begins, asking that they refrain from sharing images of your kids online. An in-the-moment, at-the-table, “don’t share that, thanks!”
No content without consent, in other words.
And yes, like any other awkward social interaction, it will feel weird the first few times you do it—but I’ve been hearing people say that kind of stuff more and more these days, and if we have enough conversations about opting out of social media, we might be able to flip the expectation so that it becomes an opt-in thing.
That is, instead of going to a party assuming that anything you do could end up online, you’ll go with the understanding that nothing you do will end up online unless you agree to it.