Please Ask Before You Post Someone's Image on Facebook

4 years ago

Over the weekend, I posted about asking people not to post my child's picture on Facebook.  Carolyn Hax had given some pretty weak advice to a set of expectant parents that amounted to "your kid's picture is going to end up online anyway, so this isn't a battle worth having."

And sure, if we go in with that attitude that people are inevitably going to plow over your boundaries when it comes to the online world, then your child's picture likely will end up on the Internet.  But if we teach people to comport themselves with the same level of respect we give one another's boundaries in the face-to-face world, we have a fighting chance of teaching the next generation that they can have a say on where their picture is posted, or, at the very least, distance themselves from people who don't respect their boundaries.

As I said over there,

I do think that — in general — people who have a firm understanding of trespassing in the face-to-face world forget about the concept of boundaries when they get to the online world.  For instance, we all know to knock before entering a house, even if the person is expecting us and we know that their door is likely unlocked.  It’s polite; it shows a respect for the other person’s space.  And yet we don’t show that same courtesy when it comes to Facebook.  People post pictures of other people without asking.  Without giving that little knock on the door in the form of asking the person after you snap their picture, “hey, do you mind if I post this on Facebook?”  Just a common, polite question.  One you only need to ask once to determine how that person feels about posting their image.

Image: Andreanna Moya Photography via Flickr

So then the issue came up about what to do with the group shot.

The candid party pictures that catch someone in the background.

The team picture at the end of baseball season.

What do you do when you want to post your child's picture on Facebook, but you have people in the image who definitely do not want to have their picture posted?  Whose feelings win out?

It's a sticky situation.  On one hand, it feels a bit akin to making a vegetarian meal: meat-eaters can consume a vegetarian meal, even if they don't enjoy it as much, whereas vegetarians cannot consume a meat-meal.  Therefore, it makes sense -- if you want to be sensitive -- to make a vegetarian meal so all can eat, and some will enjoy themselves more than others.  Meat eaters can always go home and have a huge hunk of steak.

In that analogy, those who want to post can always not post and still enjoy Facebook.  They can email out the picture to friends and family, or they can look at it at home.  But they can refrain from posting that picture while still posting other pictures that feature only people who are comfortable with their image online.  Whereas those who do not want their image posted can't have their image posted and feel comfortable.  Therefore, it would be more sensitive to not post the image, and to either come up with another way to enjoy the image or realize that not all images need to be posted.  And then move along and post something else.

On the other hand, it makes sense to simply pull people who don't wish to be photographed from situations where they will be photographed.  Withhold your child from the group baseball picture.  Don't attend parties where pictures will be taken.  Or attend school activities where parents inevitably take dozens of pictures.  Or... this solution clearly doesn't really work.  Cameras are everywhere, and people use them everywhere. 

No one is saying "don't take the picture."  They're just asking that once the picture is snapped, it isn't shared online unless the people in the image agree to the sharing.

It's easy to tell people to stop caring and just accept that our lives are going to go online, but I think that's really poor advice.  People are allowed to have boundaries.  They're allowed to express discomfort with certain situations and avoid those situations the best they can.  People have a right to privacy, and other people should respect their desire for privacy.  They don't need to agree or understand, they just need to respect it.  Unless they don't mind if their own requests for privacy (or whatever matters to them) are dismissed.

So... what is a person to do when it comes to group shots?  To the pictures you snap during the school play that contain other kids?  To the family picture that you're itching to post but it contains your cousin who hates having their image online?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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