When private photos go public

May 26, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

News flash: digital photos of an intimate nature may end up in very public places.

It is remarkable that teens, who would have us believe that they are so “with it” and so in touch with technology, seem surprised when photos or documents that they have created end up in embarrassing places.

Here is a friendly word of advice: if one does not wish to make a nude appearance on the Internet, one ought not to cavort naked in public, especially when cameras are present.

The only way to prevent this sort of discomfiting eventuality is to control access, as it were.

It is pretty simple, really. Others cannot exploit us if we do not give them the means to do so.

In a recent case in Hudson, Wis., two 17-year-old boys were charged with defamation of character for posting nude photos of a female classmate in the locker room.

After the incident, the girl claimed she was devastated by this, even though she took the photos herself, and sent them to other male classmates.

Apparently, she was overcome by an attack of modesty after the incident became public.

This type of situation seems to be rampant among both students and celebrities.

They allow themselves to be photographed, but then, when they tire of the attention, or when they receive the sort of attention that they don’t want, they suddenly become concerned about their reputations.

It is at times like these that we see what great little actresses they really are. There should be an Academy Award for best spin job by an actress when publicity photos go awry.

It could be argued that the prevailing attitude about nudity in this country is uptight to the point of being unhealthy, and this contributes to the problem, but however one feels about it, if one is concerned about public perception, it may be best not to pose for photos in one’s birthday suit.

Most of the blame in these situations seems to be focussed on the photographer or those who pass on the questionable photos, and these people are not without culpability, but the fact remains, they wouldn’t be able to disseminate the scandalous photos if the alleged victims had not taken the photos or allowed themselves to be photographed in the first place.

Teens want their independence, and they claim that they are responsible enough to make their own decisions, but as soon as things get out of hand, they go running back to their mother’s apron strings wailing about being innocent victims.

These self-styled “victims” deny any responsibility for their misfortunes. They express shock and outrage at the situation, but it should not be a surprise to anyone that there are villains who would try to profit from images of others, and the more scandalous the images, the greater the incentive. If there is a profit to be made, someone will find a way to make it. We may not like it, but that’s life, and not just in the big city.

There is a difference between photos to which one consents and those which are taken surrepticiously by some fortune hunter with a long lens (of the type through which one could read a newspaper from outer space), or taken without one’s knowledge by some freak with a cell phone camera and no scruples. These constitute an invasion of privacy, and the subject may really be a victim.

In any event, one can’t help but wonder where the parents are in all of this.

Some people suggest that this is yet another area in which schools should be taking responsibility and doing more to teach young people about the dangers of the digital world, but what happened to parental responsibility?

If the teens are not capable of understanding the consequences of their actions, the parents certainly should be.

Private information going public is not a new problem. Back in the dark ages when I was at school, we understood that if Old Lady MacKenzie intercepted a note that we were passing to a friend in class, she would confiscate it and read it out loud in front of the class (or make us read it) as punishment.

We understood and accepted that risk. We did not blame the teacher, just because she was a mean old battle-ax. We took responsibility for our actions.

The only difference is that today, with the speed of digital technology, any images or messages we send can be disseminated to hundreds or thousands of people instantly, rather than being limited to the 30 or so people in our classroom.

This is both a benefit and a curse of the time in which we live, and people of all ages would do well to remember that.

We may not care who sees photos of our wild bacchanalia now, but we just might care if those photos turn up later in a search by a potential employer. The humor may not translate well to other areas of our lives, and the problem is, once things are in the public domain, we no longer control who sees them or how they are used.

Digital technology makes it easy for people to record every aspect of their lives, but this kind of documentation can come back to haunt one later in life.

If we set out to get attention, we should not be surprised when we get it, nor should we be shocked if the attention is not what we had hoped for. We cannot expect to stuff the genie back into the lamp once he has been liberated.

Digital photos and messages, like native crystalline carbon, may last forever, but they may not be a girl’s best friend.