Posting pictures of people you don’t know

Marla (MarlaOnTheMove) and I have been chatting today about the idea of posting photos online that include people you don’t know and also, about posting photos of people you do know that you haven’t asked permission to share. I’ve briefly talked about this subject on my blog in the past and I got a lot crap for my opinions. What I never did, however, was share the story that largely shaped why my opinions are the way that they are.

In 2014 whilst working PR for large event, two coworkers and myself stopped off for a breather in the media scrum room. For anyone who’s not aware, at large events that have groups of journalists come to them, the hosts will often have private rooms for the journalists to meet, talk, eat and relax between speeches or games or whatever is happening that day.

The food in this room on this day was a hot dog, pasta and potato bar. We grabbed some food, sat down in the far corner of the room and I secretly took off the world’s most uncomfortable heels for a few minutes. (I wear heels once in a blue moon, and when I do, I very much regret doing so)

While in the corner, minding our own business at our own table, a journalist that was sitting at a table about forty feet away from us, took a photo of my coworkers and I eating. He was far enough away that we didn’t know this photo was being taken. Not until after the fact.

We were eating hot dogs. It was a gourmet hot dog bar, with different types of meat and probably forty different items for toppings. I don’t make it a regular occurrence to eat hot dogs, but I mean… when in Rome… or when there’s a gourmet hot dog bar, why not right?

So, this journalist took a photo of us eating hot dogs without our knowing about it. This journalist proceeded to post this photo of us eating hot dogs to his Twitter account and make a lewd comment that compared the hot dogs we were eating to a penis.

He took a photo of three women who were minding their own business, eating their lunch in the middle of a busy work day, posted the photo to the internet and made a lewd comment as the caption.

We didn’t find out about the photo until probably close to midnight that night. It was actually our boss who showed us the photo. This journalist, not thinking about the reach that he had with his social media platforms, thought that it was completely appropriate to take our photo without our knowing about it and share it as a means to turn us into a joke.

That is why I don’t eat hot dogs anymore.

But also, this is largely why I have a firm, hard stance on people posting photos of someone they don’t know.

People deserve privacy.

In a world where there’s a camera on every phone (and likely to be a camera on every watch soon enough) finding privacy seems to be a harder feat with each passing day.

I’m of the firm belief that just because you can take a picture of someone doesn’t mean that you should. And, if for some reason someone has ended up in a photograph of yours on accident, you do not have permission to share that photo online without asking them first. If you want to blur them out, or crop them out, then go ahead and post the picture. But, if you can clearly identify someone in your photograph and they haven’t provided you permission to post said photo online, then you shouldn’t be posting it.

This counts for people you know, this counts for people you don’t know. This very much counts for EVERYONE under the age of 18. In my personal opinion it’s especially important if someone is under the age of 18 to either not share photographs, or seek permission from them (if they’re old enough to provide it) or their parents if they’re too young to provide permission.

If you don’t have permission to post a photo of the person in your photo then don’t post it. It’s as simple as that.

Do I think that everyone in this world is seeking to go out and take photos of people at vulnerable moments to post them online and turn them into a joke and humiliate them? No.

But, that doesn’t change my stance that people deserve privacy. They deserve the right to wander the bookstore without you taking their photo. They deserve the right to drop their kids off at school without you taking their photo. They deserve the right to privacy, no matter the circumstance or reason that saw them wind up in your photograph. They deserve the right to privacy no matter what you plan on doing with the photo. Even if your account only has ten followers.

I also believe this applies to everyone. Public figure or random nobody. If Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are the guests of honour and speakers for a public event, go ahead and take their photo on stage while they’re speaking. They know what happens at these events and they sign up for them, likely signing a contract that agrees to their photo being taken. If Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are out for a walk with their son on a quiet trail on a Sunday afternoon and they can’t see you, or even if they can, don’t take their photo. It’s rude. It’s uncalled for.

People deserve the right to privacy in their lives. Walking out of your front door each morning is not a free pass for the world to use or share your likeness anywhere you go. Whether they’re Joe Schmoe from Timbuktu or the most famous person on earth. Whether you know someone or you don’t. Whether they’re in the photo purposefully (on your part or theirs) or they’re in the photo accidentally, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have the right to share it.

If your intentions are innocent and you just think it’s a cool photo that you’d like to share, get permission from the people you do know and crop out the people you don’t. It’s not that hard to figure out.

And, to the people in this world who argue there’s no such thing as privacy in 2020, there can be. If you choose to be a decent human being, there definitely can be. It’s all a matter of choice. Who do you want to be? What kind of legacy do you want to lead?

I’m sure I’ll get harsh critique of these opinions, but that’s okay. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and I get that not everyone thinks the same way as I do. That journalist seemed to think it was a completely okay thing to do to take a photo of us eating hot dogs and post it to Twitter with a lewd comment. Myself, my coworkers, my boss, we all did not.

55 thoughts on “Posting pictures of people you don’t know

    1. Right? There are so many creeps. People who put their kids on blast for clicks and views really don’t know what harm they could be causing. There was a woman on YouTube for several years, I forget her name I’ll see if I can find her though, she always shared her kids. Then one day she abruptly stopped. People asked her for months what happened and, when I caught on, she’d made a video advocating for parents to stop sharing their children and that photos of her children had ended up on a child predator website and she didn’t want what happened to her to happen to others. Her video really struck a chord, I wish it could’ve been seen by a lot more people.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. People do it. Every day. Sadly. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t like facebook. There’s soooooo many pictures floating around facebook of people making fun of complete strangers.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I would go one step further and start making some laws about sharing children’s photos, especially in those that use the children as a product rather than a human being, you want to do it yourself then go, but otherwise unless you have their decision (and I would say by 10 most children can decide, although don’t take that as gospel)

    Its also not just privacy for some people, its job prospects, loan applications. etc

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with you. I once took a picture of a business that was in a hilarious location, (not sharing details here for obvious reasons, but it really was funny) and posted it online with a funny comment. The owner of the business found the picture and was really mad about it. I felt horrible. I’ve never posted anything like it since.

    I’m really sorry that hot dogs were ruined for you. I believe in a right to privacy and a right to eat hot dogs when you feel like it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You’re absolutely right, V. Everyone deserves their privacy and it’s horrible to have it taken away from you. I’m so sorry for what you’ve experienced. The journalist sounds horribly unprofessional. I agree with all of your points on this matter, and you know what? It’s why I enjoy reading your posts. You take the time to analyze different social and modern issues with cogency and logic. I admire that greatly.

    Also, what monster ruins hot dogs like that?? I’m joking, of course, but seriously what that journalist did was low, despicable, and not the true ethics that are involved in journalism.

    This is very well stated and I agree with each point.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, don’t be sorry for what I went through. I ripped into him for his creepiness and lack of professionalism. The story, though, stands out in my mind as a reminder that if you don’t someone to post photos of yourself online, you shouldn’t be posting pictures of others.

      Thank you for the compliment. It’s really nice to hear that you enjoy my posts and that I don’t come across as a crazy psycho! I try to be logical. Of course there’s exceptions to everything in life and I’m open to having my mind changed. That being said, hearing that you enjoy what I’m sharing means a lot. So thank you so much.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I don’t think your opinion is harsh, I’ve also found myself thinking about something like this, especially since I want to go into photography and might want to take some street photos. I have anxiety talking to people but I know deep down that if someone took a photo of me unawares, I’d love if the person asked me before posting it online so I try to take just landscape photos for now. Hopefully, I’d get to build up the courage to ask people for permission before posting a pic online.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Over the years, I’ve had quite a number of photos of me posted without my knowledge or consent. I belong to a social media site which requires you to confirm that you are in the picture and you have the written permission of anyone else in photos to post them. It’s not always observed, but it is grounds for an account to be flagged and shut down. I’m sorry you had this happen to you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, please don’t say sorry. I tore into him pretty hard. He might have shed a tear or two. Not really tears, but he was for sure afraid of me after I yelled at him in front of everyone.

      That sounds like a very thorough website that requires you to confirm you’re in the photograph. For the places your photos were posted without your knowledge or permission, that’s really not fair, and it’s not right. I wholly and fully disagree with people doing that. I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with that crap. It can feel so invasive.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It was really bad. I’ve had people snap a photo with me and then portray me as their lover. WTF? I met them for 3 seconds. Some of the other experiences were far worse. Respect is extremely important!!!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. You’d be surprised. A decade of working in PR, I saw people get away with a lot of shit because they got views for publications in the decline of printed newspapers…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I know people are like this so whenever I see a camera or a phone, I always say don’t take my picture. They have smart phones, access to the Internet, social media feeds and nothing interesting about themselves to post, so they fall into this blackhole of violating other people’s privacy in order to feed an algorithm.

    There was one of me on Facebook taking a sip of wine at a private dinner party. That one sip and was enough for people to assume that I guzzle. As I don’t use social media I asked several friends to ask her to take it down immediately.

    I don’t socialise with strangers anymore and if people ask to take photos of me I refuse or ask them not to share on their social media pages.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s good that you think far enough ahead to tell them to not post your photos. It sucks that there was a photo circling of you drinking that you have no control over. People really don’t understand that just because it might be a simple photo for them, doesn’t mean it’s a simple photo for everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good last point. Glad you tore into that journalist and had your photo taken down. They were trained to do better than that. Next time, you can petition the social media platform directly, and Google. I have had swift action doing both at the same time.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. During my travels, I’ve seen tourists take pictures of local children, which I found super uncomfortable. Sure, the children are really cute and some even wear the country’s traditional garb, but it’s also a violation of privacy, as you said, as well as the subjects being under the age of 18. Also, whenever I see a traveler filming or snapping a photo in my direction, I cover up and turn away so that I’m not in the shot (or won’t be recognized). People aren’t self-aware these days to post photos of direct strangers on social media for their gain, while not respecting the privacy of those in the image. This isn’t about general crowds, but specific subjects (and not the “Humans of NY” series). It’s a complicated topic these days with social media, but in the end, it’s all about common courtesy to others.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think I remember you telling me about tourists taking pictures of local kids. I find that so weird and a huge violation of those kids.

      When you say you turn away if you see someone with a camera snapping a shot, I’m the same. I don’t want to be in a random stranger’s photo. You really never know what people are going to do with those photos. And when you bring up the ‘Humans of NY’ series, there are so many accounts online right now like that. There’s so many Instagram accounts like ‘Hot Dudes Reading’ and while it’s not used in a way to make jokes of people, it’s a huge platform that I bet not a single person on that account has given permission for their photo to be used. I mean, they don’t even realize a photo of them is being taken, let alone posted to an Instagram account with 1.2 million followers. Whatever the reason it is posted online, what if they don’t want to be online?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I agree with you on this completely. My mother gets so overly worked up when my sisters and I ask her not to post certain pictures. I agree it’s very important to be respectful and mindful of other people’s boundaries and privacy rights.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Does that apply both ways? If I respect the rights of strangers do they respect my rights in public spaces such as, roads? I’m no angel but, I do see how hypocritical it is to overly feel in a public setting. In Phoenix, I step on any street corner and the cops and transportation know my face, my background, and any social media linked to my name. But, you’re worried about others (Sips tea with Kermit).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When you say strangers respect your right, do you mean other people you pass by on the street, or specifically, cops? I think the point I was trying to make was that, I’m abundantly aware that the opinions in this post are entirely my own and not believed by everyone, but in an ideal world, people wouldn’t take pictures of strangers. People would respect your rights. That being said, our world’s, while we don’t live that far apart, are completely different. Implications of police and government involvement is a completely different story in the USA than it is in Canada. So to that, there is no one size fits all answer.


      1. That question is a bit oddly worded my apologies but I’ll try to answer. Stepping outside of your house. Isn’t everyone a stranger? We essentially have three atmospheres in a public space our personal bubble, the public area, and law enforcement. Inside our homes though, it’s a bit odd due to any social media presence. You give up your personal bubble for artificial respect. Allowing millions of strangers to stare at your face or you “twerking for Black Lives Matter.” Facebook started in 2004, cataloging nearly every face since then. But, you’re worried about being in someone’s photo like some celebrity. Haha. Cool.

        I disagree that we cannot have policies that cross borders that respect a person’s privacy. I just, hope you understand not everyone thinks like you. Which, in a way is good. If we did have that respect for privacy we wouldn’t have the George Floyd video. Sheriff Bull Connor’s dogs biting kids in Alabama. Tiananmen Square video. Rodney King’s video.


      2. 1) I completely understand that not everyone thinks the way that I do. I say that regularly on this blog. This blog is also a place for my opinions, though. So I’m not going to shy away from sharing them just because people will disagree.

        2) Cross border privacy policies are not possible. The difference between the government’s of the USA and Canada are night and day. The differences between the Canadian government and the Saudi government? They’re basically in a different universe. In an ideal world, sure it’d be great if they could all agree, but the realist in me knows that’s not possible.

        3) There’s a HUGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE difference between someone taking a photo of me eating a hot dog to mock me online and someone videotaping racial, societal, economic and human rights injustices and murder (because let’s call it what it is) and sharing that to teach people the realities of the inequalities in our world. That’s comparing apples to murder.

        If you want to argue semantics, that’s fine. Like I said in this post, not everyone is going to agree with me and that’s okay.


      3. Steve Jobs, when introducing the iPhone said the best camera was the one you have on hand. You think it’s semantics? Certain systems have allowed a kind of global citizenship. You’re wanting an entitled privacy in a separate and private system itself. That really has no laws or boundaries in any government setting. I think I read that correctly. I also read that, you feel that it’s cultural to respect privacy. That Canada, way different from the US on this. Really? You think really low of us huh? Haha I do not doubt that.

        Social media is a business and we are the product. That’s your industry right? You feel disrespected because the system that feeds you is working against you? That’s very American.


  10. I used to post pics of my kids on FB all the time and then once they got older (around 12) I had the presence of mind to ask if they wanted their photos up on my social media sites. They said they did not. So, unlike many of my friends I don’t have any current pics of my kids online.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s really cool of you.
      Thank you for sharing this story.
      It’s good to hear there are parents in this world who understand digital footprints and the effect if can have on their kids enough to ask their kids. I wish more people would follow suit!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I think it’s alright to post pictures of other people without their consent occasionally, so long as: they’re in the background and/or blurry, the photo is not published or used for any monetary gain or what, you’re not actively making fun of them. I assume it’s the memory of this that’s ruined hot dogs for you, which is heartbreaking. Hot dogs are one of life’s great joys, like rainy days and apple pie.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah I never understood how heels were remotely a practical thing. They’re not comfortable, slow you down, and make you hit your head on things. I suppose it’s just the price you have to pay to be sufficiently “feminine”.


  12. I’ve been a journalist for two decades. I am ok with taking photos of people in public places. I’m not ok with a “journalist” making lewd comments. That’s not journalism; that’s childish behavior.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. No criticism here. If I need photos of random people, I use the photos in the service I subscribe to that have releases. And I credit them. I just blurred out some people last week, too.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Couldn’t agree more, it’s actually just a bit weird to take photos of strangers?!
    I’be written a few posts recently about a trip I did a few years ago, there’s some great group photos – but I don’t speak to most of the people in them anymore, so I’ve not posted them, plain and simple!

    Liked by 1 person

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