April 07, 2014

Why Do People Think It’s OK To Take Pictures of Strangers?


It seems to be happening all around us, with no one really batting an eyelid. Until now that is. Taking a quick piccie of a cute boy in a dapper suit to send via Snapchat to a friend, or documenting the ‘look-a-like’ who you can’t help document for later, we’re all guilty of it. Even if we take a picture of the fluffy dog on the table next to us in the restaurant, should we be technically asking it’s owner’s permission? It’s not our dog. Or have we reached a new level of advanced technology that is engrained within our society that we think it’s totally within our rights to snap away at whoever we want to, whenever we want to? 

The reason this has now become an issue, and in fact a social ‘fear’, is because it takes seconds for a photo to go viral and hit mainstream media. It’s also possible to be really subtle without having camera sound on your phone. It’s not like you’re getting a heavy Canon 600d out of your bag, you just need to pretend to be playing Candy Crush at a weird angle and you’re in. Snap snap. One sneaky photo harmlessly uploaded onto Twitter is then in the public domain and has the potential to be spread anywhere, by anyone, and even end up on the front page of a tabloid newspaper. Forget skiving off work or having sex in the street, these days you could be made a fool of for just eating or sleeping on public transport. This is now a reality.

I must admit until now, I’ve often scrolled through blogs and poked fun behind my screen at Tumblrs that crowd source photos of the general public. Sites such as LAMFRT” (that’s Look At My F*cking Red Trousers). Essentially it’s a Tumblr for people to upload pictures of “posh idiots” who roam such events such as the Polo or Henley Regatta who wear the same silly red trousers. It’s funny to laugh at these members of society who thinks it’s cool to dress up wearing the same red trousers, isn’t it? However, something happened last week that made me feel exceptionally guilty about laughing at these posh people. I feel guilty that I could happily laugh along at a public Tumblr group that could have seriously upset the people that were on there and that it took a public group that posted pictures of women eating that made me think: oh shoot, I could so easily be pictured and mocked online too.

Let me explain: the latest victims of people snapping away without permission or any sense of decency, is the Facebook group “Women Who Eat on Tubes”. Suddenly, I felt a pang of absolute disgust over the fact that some horrible men have been taking secret photos of women eating at unflattering angles. It is a horrible, seedy group, and it’s not just the pictures that make it hard to look at; it’s the vile comments and captions underneath each picture that add an extra layer of evil. It’s the fact that these women are completely unaware and just enjoying a harmless bite to each on public transport. Soon to be seen and laughed at by thousands.

I don’t think this is a specific gender issue, or that it’s all about the battle between men and women, but I do find the whole thing very intimidating. I must admit I have recently paused when thinking about having a snack on the tube since discovering this group because it has become so main stream and has happened to a soon-to-be colleague. If it was the other way around and it was a group of women taking pictures of men eating it would be just as disgusting and invasive. I think the issue just needs to raised with Facebook and with the general public to reinforce the fact that it is just bad manners. It’s not OK to take pictures of people in a cruel way. It’s not OK full stop.

What I honestly cannot believe above all, is that Facebook hasn’t yet removed this group. It’s still there and what’s worse is it’s an ‘open group’ which means anyone can access it and anyone can post to it.  What’s even more sinister is the fact that the groups founder, recently interviewed by Telegraph’s Wonder Women compared it to capturing “wildlife” which honestly sends shivers down my spine: “It should cherish its subjects in the way a wildlife photographer cherishes a kingfisher in a river.” Ew.

I for one will be having second thoughts whenever I am tempted to photograph anyone without permission or for the sake of ‘sharing’, with friends or on the Internet. That includes snapping the backs of heads of nearby celebrities or anyone I don’t know even if it’s to capture the fact that I like their shoes. Just because we have portable cameras doesn’t mean we have any right to be snapping away in stranger’s faces.



No Responses

  1. I’ve just had a browse of the Women Who Eat On Tubes Facebook group. It is appalling. It seems laughable that women simply having something to eat while travelling should be the subject of a group, but women are going to feel they can’t eat when they want to for fear of being clandestinely photographed now. It’s actually no better than Big Brother. Thank you for bringing this to my attention – the group makes me so angry. You’re right – it’s not only rude but completely cruel and an invasion of our privacy. I suppose this is what happens in a world in which taking hundreds of Snapchat-type pictures every day is the norm. Do you think Facebook will do anything about it?

  2. Sarah says:

    Oh i think its a huge invasion of privacy, I never realised that such groups exist, There was a scandal in Ireland awhile ago about a girl who was from a posh area, who was videoed when drunk that went viral here, that probably really embarassed everyone you know, i think you shouldn’t take advantage of vulnerable people through photos videos or whatever

  3. Annonymouse says:

    My husband and I deal with this a lot. we are an interracial couple and obnoxious catty women are usually the culprits. Taking pictures of us while eating or drinking somewhere, heading to the bathroom, or watching a game. If you want to hunt someone down to embarrass try the wallstreet ghouls that stole everyones money for the past 25 years. They don’t seem to be heading to prison at all, they could use some serious shade. All I can say is, get a hobby, help find missing children, teach sign language to deaf people, but get a life.

    What a lot of people don’t realize is in some states this can be considered stalking behavior. If someone is doing this to you you could quietly call the police and make a scene and they might force the person to delete it. This might be better than a brawl.

    They seem to know not to take pictures of kids so at least they have some boundaries.
    If they cross this one that next shot might be an extreme closeup of the bathroom floor tile.

  4. the iceman bin ahmed says:

    I’m 20 years old not on social media and also agree people take their phones out to take pics and videos like that shit is nothing like it’s the norm. I don’t use social media so thank God I’m not in this circle of people who think this shit is the norm . I was in class last year at uni some French guy just takes out his phone and started doing a panoramic photo of everyone the teacher didn’t say shit cause it’s a small class. How is that acceptable ? So I called him out on it and he was shocked I just said don’t photo me. He uploaded it on fb after and this chinese guy commented what I said and they all had a laugh at it and liked it. So it’s OK to photo a guy without permission? These stuck up assholes? This generation is so weird.

  5. Anonymous in America says:

    I’m a guy and I’ve noticed this and it creeps me out. I’m average-looking, not particularly handsome or ugly, but I’ve noticed people, mainly girls, taking photos of me at odd angles, as if they don’t want me to notice. Once or twice, they’ve held the camera out front at arms length, and stared stone faced, as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. I’m not particularly confrontational, in fact most times when I’m out and about, I just want to be left alone and ignored, so it’s even more difficult to approach someone who’s also trying not to be noticed, and ask why she’s surveilling me. I was starting to think I’d lost it and was just paranoid, but it’s happened too many times now to be a coincidence. I don’t know why or what they’re doing with these photos or videos, but I hate having my likeness out there, especially on days when I’m feeling self-critical and don’t want to be photographed. If you suffer from negative self-image, it hurts for strangers to rub that in your face. Maybe that’s not the goal of these self-made papparazzas though, but if so, I can’t figure out what. If it’s some kind of conspiratorial lesson about consent, I’m not the guy you need to be targeting to teach; I’ve had that lesson drummed into me since childhood. If it’s a giant practical joke, it’s cruel. And if people are just weirdos who get off on invading others’ privacy, then quit making me feel like a weirdo. I’m minding my own business. Why don’t you mind yours?

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