Don’t Upload That Photo! Know Your Tech Etiquette

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

There’s an anti-selfie bill making its way through Congress in the Philippines. While this bill has no power in the United States, it speaks to how snap-happy the world has become. It brings into question how often we log everything and everyone in our lives, and that we forget to consider whether or not other people want to be documented in our photo stream scrapbook.

The ‘Anti-Selfie Bill,’ or House Bill 4807, would make it illegal to take photos of people in public without their consent, which includes public figures. This bill threatens to take away Filipinos’ rights to a transparent government and acts of citizen journalism. Americans are protected against such a bill ever being passed by the First Amendment of the American Constitution. This right has protected journalists’ ability to report on the police brutality surrounding Ferguson, Missouri and other scandals, and has helped keep public officials honest through transparency. However, smartphone cameras working in tandem with social media has also caused its fair share of trouble for people who have done nothing wrong.

The modern smartphone has many benefits that allow people to observe and report like never before, but it also has a dark, Big Brother aspect to it. We’re all being watched and everyone will know what we’ve done if we make enough of a spectacle. Take the case of a young lady at Miami’s ULTRA music festival. She’d taken some cocktail of drugs and decided, in her drug-addled state, that it would be good to give a tree an erotic lap dance. It makes for a funny story — one you would tell your friends after you got back from the music festival. But someone uploaded it to YouTube, Gizmodo reported on it, and the Internet viewed it over 200,000 times.

Of course, this smartphone video isn’t a Gangnam Style hit or one of Pewdiepie’s Let’s Play uploads. By comparison, a small group of people saw this woman’s public display, but it’s proof that anytime you want to go out and overindulge, be prepared to have someone upload your escapades. Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle makes a fair point when he reported on the video a year ago, saying that, “The consequence is that we’re all a little less fun — or headed that way. Within 15 seconds, even the slightest indiscretion, spilled drink, or untucked shirt can be recorded and texted or Instagrammed about.”

What if the girl had seen that video? What if her friends had seen that video? Her classmates? Her employer? There are unwilling YouTube stars that are living proof of the detrimental effects that having an isolated moment exposed can have on your life.

Take ‘Star Wars Kid’ for example. Sure, his exploit was recorded on a VHS tape he accidentally left in the video recorder, but his classmates took the tape and uploaded it to YouTube. The rest is Internet history. You may have seen the video and laughed at this boy’s attempt to wield a golf ball retriever like a lightsaber, but this kid became suicidal and faced ridicule from his classmates because of the actions of his peers.

People upload videos and photos of strangers without hesitation or thought of the person they’re exploiting. They’re so excited to share this hilarious thing they saw and photographed with others that the notion there are repercussions to uploading this video or that photo of a stranger.

We are living in a world that’s becoming more and more transparent to the point where we can’t even rely on mall security staff to keep our embarrassing missteps a secret. When these victims of online sharing come out to defend themselves, the Internet blames them for their actions. We cannot expect everyone to operate without error every moment of every day. The ‘Fountain Woman’ who tripped and fell into a mall fountain while texting walked away from the scene embarrassed and was subsequently made to turn on the TV and relive the embarrassment with commentary from network hosts. It makes one paranoid to think that one misstep in our day could throw off our entire life.

Everyone is an amateur photographer, but there are different conversations (or a lack there of) happening between professionals and people who own smartphones. There’s a code of ethics and a hesitation to photograph strangers among professionals. Take this article written by Dan Westergren for National Geographic. He gives tips to photographers on how to photograph strangers. There’s a code of ethics and a constant dialogue that teaches professionals how to behave and the dos and don’ts of the trade. But when you give anyone a smartphone with a camera attached to it and no context for how powerful a photo can be, you get trouble.

“It’s not ok to assume the right to tell someone else’s story,” says Mindy Lockard, an etiquette expert. Technology does need new laws when it comes to privacy, but not necessary ones that restrict our First Amendment Rights. For the sake of smartphone photography, selfies, and sharing, there should be lessons on etiquette. Just like there are manners for eating at the table, calling a potential employer, and meeting someone new, people need to learn and be taught to think before they photograph someone they don’t know and certainly not to upload it.

Conversations have started, but they need to continue. The Cosplay =/= Consent movement is one example. This group revolved around stopping unwanted sexual advances at conventions, but there was a subtopic within the conversation that asked photographers to, well, ask before taking a snapshot. Of course, it’s easier to just take a photo without permission and move on, but if you’re nervous about asking, then you probably shouldn’t be taking the picture in the first place, and you certainly shouldn’t be sharing it.

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