Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Photography and Fetlife

As you might guess, I frequently search out things on Fetlife that interest me. One of the subjects that has become something of a minor crusade for me personally, is the subject of photographs. I don't have a problem posting pictures of myself, as long as they're not of me in sexual or s/m situations. Rope is fine, having fun is fine, but I don't want photos of me posted on Fetlife engaging in anything that would tweak my grandmother.

Many people have similar rules regarding photos of themselves. Some are stricter than mine, and some are a lot more open about their kinks. I wish we all could be, but that's a fantasy I've had for nearly 20 years, and I really don't see it changing all that much. The only thing that has changed, is the advent of cell phone cameras and the internet. And because of that, things are getting a little crazy.

Many discussions about privacy have been started on Fetlife. Some are better than others. But one in particular got my attention because of the eloquence of his response. With his permission, I've reposted his reply to this thread below. I want to thank Jim, known as bartleby on Fetlife for his kindness in allowing me to quote his words here.

Before you take pictures of others, before you post pictures of others, think about the discretion that some of us are forced to live with and ask yourself if putting up that picture is worth ruining someone's life over.

I’m Jim, and I’m kinky, too.

But you don’t see my picture here, or anywhere on Fetlife with my consent, because it might impact me professionally.

One of my first friends in the scene was a school teacher, and photos of some of her antics on the internet would have definitely been a cause for concern to her; since she was pretty sure that she would be jobless should they come to the wrong person’s attention. And you never want to be in the position of hoping that a picture of you on the internet doesn’t come to the wrong person’s attention.

I have been reading this thread, and wondering whether to come in on it. It is tempting to stay away because I was recently involved in a situation where I mistakenly thought that a photo of me had been posted. And that turned fairly ugly.

However, the idea that someone can take a photo of someone else in a private space, and then post it without their consent pretty much hits ten on an ugliness scale of nine. This is true whatever the party rules are about photography.

My friend the schoolteacher would have known exactly what hit her if the wrong photo showed up in the wrong place. As would a parent who suddenly became a non custodial parent.

However, for many it would not be so obvious. A client or promotion not landed. Or people who we need for all sorts of reasons, or people who we care for, who suddenly come into information that they not only can’t handle, but can’t even bring themselves to talk about with us.

When I came into the kink world, there were a lot of things that made me deeply uncomfortable. Over time I was able to make peace with a lot of that. Much of the reason for that is that I came to know and respect people who indulged in those things. And while I may never tread those specific paths, I can accept them as valid for others.

People who have not had that opportunity can not be expected to react the same way. We can debate whether they are good or bad people, or whether they “should” be more enlightened.

But what is not debatable is that there can be very real consequences to allowing your personal life to become public. Some of us know this now. Some others will find this out later. And some others yet will suffer these consequences and never know the reason why.

And if anyone thinks that a photograph without a proper name or other identifying information will just fade into obscurity, try the following experiment. And then roll the numbers around in your head for a while.

Google the words Rodolfo Corrales North Carolina. (here's the article)

You will find an Associated Press story about a man by the name of Rodolfo Corrales, who was arrested for murder by the FBI on June 24. Pertinent to this discussion is that the FBI had a tip that he was living in North Carolina under an assumed name. According to the story they took a 1991 photo of him to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, and compared it to the pictures on file.

Out of 30 million pictures, the computer gave them possible hits in the dozens. And they found him. Easily.

And Mr. Corrales provided food for thought for the rest of us.

The numbers again: 18 year old photo. 30 million possibilities, narrowed down to dozens of likely people within seconds.

Facial recognition software is apparently pretty impressive these days. And we can count on it improving. Which is all the more reason that I don’t want my picture taken under some circumstances.

And I don’t think that I should have to abstain from going to parties where I can mingle with my friends and enjoy myself because of that.

At any party I go to there will be people I know and like. There will be people who are just acquaintances. There will people I don’t know. And there may even be people I don’t like.

I think that all of these people, connected however fragilely, should be able to share one common assumption. And that is that we do not intend to cause one another harm.

To post a picture of someone without their consent is to harm them. To even take someone’s picture without them explicitly consenting is also to harm them, since they have no control of that image, and can never be sure that it won’t come back to haunt them. Whether it does or not, that still takes its toll on their peace of mind.

This is obviously no longer universally believed. But it might just be a matter of common decency to rein in the desire for a shot you want, when it might cost another children, job security, or family harmony.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

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