A social function I attended was going well until the moment when someone tried to take group photos. This was not a function where selfies were documenting every moment as proof the event had in fact occurred, but rather a small gathering where the primary people interested were already in the room.
When the question was posed, “Do you want a group photo?” one attendee became upset, swore, and left the room. Under no circumstance was permission granted, nor would it ever likely be. People in the room shuffled and resettled as they tried to cope with what many felt was a huge overreaction to a simple request.
What’s the big deal? It’s just a picture.
In a completely unrelated event, Someone intended to share childhood photos of a woman, without her permission. Someone would have, if the photos hadn’t been misplaced, because the woman and the third party had been schoolmates together. According to Someone, this meant the photos were of interest, potentially embarrassing though they may be. After all, they represented a shared moment in time. The woman stated she would not be amused, and asked that the photos not be shared. Predictably, Someone was hurt.
After all, what’s the big deal? It’s just a picture, and would only result in a little healthy teasing, right?
I see it differently.
Social media has brought about many good things to our world. I’ve watched as Fort McMurray successfully evacuated their city when faced with a raging forest fire, with the help of timely tweets and Facebook updates. I’ve used it to determine what restaurants I’ll eat at, or what roads I’ll avoid on the drive home and I’ve experimented with up-to-the-moment updates for conferences I’ve attended. I’ve connected with many former friends and schoolmates myself, and am blessed with new relationships I value greatly. It has a place, a good place, and I’m grateful for it.
However, we’ve also allowed it to erode our sense of privacy to the point where we assume others don’t care about their privacy either. We forget there are real people on the other side of the screen. I’ve watched as death announcements have been made before the immediate family has been notified, and I’ve seen as much misinformation sent out as real information.
In the examples, outsiders see “just” a photo because they view the pictures with the filter of their experience–not with the filter the individual involved brings to it.
Consequently, we have no idea what emotions or reality such photos might represent. In the first circumstance, for example, an outsider may not understand the attendee had left behind an abusive relationship, and was trying to minimize an online presence so that interaction with the abuser was also minimized. To that individual, the photo represented the potential for genuine physical and emotional distress.
To the second woman, the photos represented a challenging childhood, and the person they were going to be shared with was a casual acquaintance, someone she hadn’t seen since she was a child herself. She wasn’t interested in rehashing old memories online or in having the Facebook algorithm remind her every year about it without any warning. Perhaps there was a counsellor involved, perhaps there were significant triggers that Someone wasn’t aware of–or had even ignored.
Social media lets us share all kinds of things, and do it very quickly. It has a purpose, but perhaps in addition to like, retweet, and repost icons, it also needs to have a pause button. What if there was a way to remind ourselves to ask the question if it was our story to tell in the first place?