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The Social Media Dilemma

 By Barrington H. Brennen, October 1, 2014



“Those disgusting relatives of mine, how could they have put my photo on social media without my permission?   Why can’t they respect my wishes?"   Is there really something wrong with publishing a friend’s photos on an online social media without the person’s permission?  Note carefully that if one is in a public place, there is no expectation of privacy, no matter what you are doing.  However, when you are in a private place, home, etc, it is inappropriate to publish a photo without seeking permission.


Let me explain.  If you are marching on a parade in public it is normal to expect photographers, professionals, and amateurs to capture the moment and use it for publications or online social media.  There is nothing much you can do about that.   However, if you know the person photographed in public feels that the moment or image captured is awkward or embarrassing,  it is wise to seek permission before publishing.   You do not want to ruin your relationship.  


American Lawyer Ruth Carter gives another twist to this that is somewhat different than mine in her article “When Can You Post Photos Online?”  She says “If you’re in a public place and someone snaps a picture of you while you’re falling down drunk, getting arrested, picking your nose, scowling at a crying baby, or not wearing pants, there’s probably nothing you can do if that picture shows up online somewhere.  The exception to this rule is that you have an expectation of privacy in places like public bathroom stalls, changing rooms, tanning salons, and doctor’s offices that may require you to be partially or completely undressed.”    Sometimes it is not just about the legal requirements but simply about respect, honor, and dignity. 


If you are doing a story about someone in a formal online or printed publication and want to use a caption photo of the person, it is best you seek permission for which photo to use.   Some popular people establish agreements with the media to only use certain types of photos or particular photos.  This is to be respected.




There is another view regarding your private life and when you are in your private world.  Often parents are upset when they see a photo of their newborn on a social media site that was taken by a family member or friend.  Although the parents knew the photos were being taken, but how the photos will be used are taken for granted.    This causes great discord in relationships.  


Some family members have the audacity to think that since they are relatives or older and wiser, they do not need to seek permission to use the photos publically.  With the increase use of social media I think it is wise to say to persons with a camera, smart phone, or iPad, who are visiting you what your expectations are about photo taking and privacy.   You can inform the family members or visitors either not to take photos or when to take photos, or not to use any photo taken outside their own private world without your permission.  Do not take for granted that they already have that understanding.  Unfortunately, some people have no scruples.


With the worldwide use of so many social media sites people have become camera crazy.  They seem to enjoy taking photos and putting them online without discretion.  This is not wise.  There should be consideration for the person’s privacy and dignity.  Social media is being used to remove the privacy boundaries.   It shows a lack of respect.   We must realize that once a photo is online it can be seen around the world.  It is gone, gone, gone.  Do you want that part of your private life to be public?  You should be wiser in informing people about your expectations who are taking photos of you, your children, or other family members while in your private space.   No one has a right to walk in your private home and take a photo and release it to the world without your permission.  Not even your mom, dad, siblings, close friends, and other relatives.



Many years ago mostly professionals took photos at weddings and funerals.  The use of photos was under control and was seldom abused.   Today, with the use of cheap digital cameras, smart phones and iPads, the church aisles are often ridiculously padded with eager photographers snapping their favorite moments.  Many leave these funerals or weddings feeling that they have the license to use the photos when they want to.  As stated earlier, they might be right, but the photographers are to be wise.  Placing a photo on your social media site might not be the desire of the family.  They may not want to be exposed in that way.  So what do we do?   Perhaps someone should announce at the funeral or wedding that there will be no photo taken or no photo should be published online without permission.  Once this is stated the photographers are to abide by it.  The notice can also be printed in the brochures.   



There are intimate moments a couple may want to capture on camera.  What part does privacy plays in this case?  Here’s what Ruth Carter shares about this:  “For example, if you and your partner make a sex tape or take intimate pictures of each other, there’s an inherent expectation that no one beside you two would see them. If you break up, your partner can’t post the pictures online and protect themselves by saying that you never agreed to keep them private.” 


Perhaps, I need to repeat an important principle.  Never take for granted that the photographer, amateur or professional, knows your expectation about privacy.   Also make sure you are proactive regarding photo taking.  Establish your own privacy rules for all occasions and let the people know about it.  If you do not let them know, often there is very little you can do about it.   Also be careful about your behavior in public.  Photographer Ruth Carter says “Don’t do anything in public that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.”    This is no longer a private planet but you can still keep your life private.


Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments to barringtonbrennen@gmail.com or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org  or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002















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