Does It Matter Who The Person In The Picture Is?
Another question to consider: Should there be different rules depending on who's in the photo? I recently posted two pics of strangers to my Twitter with zero backlash. Was that because both the men I gently teased online were well-dressed white men? What if they were women or part of a visible minority? Would that change the equation of whether posting a pic of a stranger online is ethical or unethical? Should it? Posting them here, on a commercial site, requires blocking faces, which would totally ruin the joke of one of the pics, because I snapped a photo of an incredibly well-dressed but sinister man who I thought was going to murder and eat me. But the other pic sort of works even without a face:
Is this wrong?
Yep, that was my joke -- that the dude on the subway seat across from me looked like a young hipster Carl Sagan. Do I need a release for that? In my opinion, I do not. In my opinion, that tweet is defensible. If I had a friend sitting next to me (or any friends at all), it's the joke I would have told. I told it to the web instead. He knows how he dresses. He knows how he wears his hair. I stand by my assertion that he bears a resemblance to a dead astronomer. Is that too cruel to post? No one seemed to think so on my Twitter. Would it change if I snapped a pic of a dude who looked like a young Neil deGrasse Tyson? I would hope it wouldn't, but to tell you the truth, while I intended to do that test, I just didn't have the balls to find out.
Does It Matter If Your Intent Is To Shame?
And now we get to the biggest question, but before I ask it, I'll just phrase it as a statement for those yelling it at the column for the first four entries: "It's not about pic posting; it's about shaming, jackass!" First off, I don't think that's true. For some, as addressed above, the mere posting of the pic is the sin, with nothing more necessary. But let's ask your question (with your personal attacks removed, thank you very much): Does it matter if the point of the pic is to shame? I'm not convinced that's always wrong. I'll ask other questions: Is there no conduct that can be held up to derision? Is public criticism always wrong?
Michael Buckner/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
For example, what if you saw M. Night Shyamalan in the street working on his adaptation of The Last Airbender
before it was set to film -- shouldn't you pic-shame him before it's too late?
Previously, I wrote about the practice of parents publicly shaming their children, which I think is horrible because it's selling out your child to strangers and breaking trust more than instilling ethics. But while I believe that most name-calling and shaming is mean-spirited and awful, and Buble's pic with hashtags included is unseemly and indefensible, I'm not ready to say there is no behavior you can capture with your phone you can't comment negatively on in a public way. Take the NPH pic. That man on the subway definitely broke a norm of societal behavior. Who takes off their shoes? It's weird. NPH called it out. Big deal. (It's also a shitty tweet, but it was more entertaining than most of the last Oscars.)
But forget about NPH. Is there nothing that can be snapped and mocked? I mean, we use closed surveillance cameras and show the footage online and on television to catch criminals and terrorists. We don't get permission first for that. Is that the line? You can record and shame someone only if they're breaking the law, but not if they're breaking a societal norm? I'm just not convinced there are these hard-and-fast rules. Obviously, if you take a pic of someone and say something shitty or mean or racist or sexist, then your act is shitty or mean or racist or sexist. The indefensible doesn't become defensible just because we put it online. But at the same time, I don't believe gentle ribbing, recording the people of the world with a comment, or even sticking it to people who have it coming is always wrong. There aren't always clear-cut lines of proper online behavior in an ever-changing virtual world.
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