“YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO FILM” and its occasional variation, “PHOTOGRAPHY EQUALS DEATH!”
Obviously, this was not the law, which was ironically established largely around filming cops doing their job. But what the law permitted, or didn’t permit, wasn’t really a major concern for rioters. They were more concerned that images or videos of their faces would enable the police to identify them and arrest them for the crimes they committed.
DC: “I bet your d*ck is tiny”
An aggressive BLM activist swarms a white couple eating dinner for simply recording their protest
She accuses him of being racist for recording and proceeds to comment on his penis size pic.twitter.com/636xYhxeJX
— Drew Hernandez (@livesmattershow) September 19, 2020
It’s understandable that people engaging in crimes would be against being filmed, at least by unsympathetic people. So would a bank robber or drug dealer. It’s not the sort of thing that inures to your benefit. But it’s not merely the filming of criminal conduct anymore.
At a demonstration last month, Larry Malcolm Smith Jr., noticed a female protester quarreling with a photographer. She had told the man that she didn’t want to be photographed, Mr. Smith recalled. Although he had a right to photograph in public, the photographer seemed to be unusually aggressive.
As a marshal, Mr. Smith, 21, was there to make sure that the demonstration ran smoothly. He intervened in the argument and told the photographer to move away from the woman.
“Marshal” is a title some protesters give themselves, creating some sort of quasi-official status within the organization of a protest.
Marshals tend to be scattered throughout a march — often equipped with bullhorns — and are there to answer questions and keep the energy alive in the middle and back end of a protest.
When the woman in Smith’s story didn’t want a photographer taking pictures of her even though there is no suggestion she was engaged in any criminal conduct, Marshal Smith intervened on her behalf, suggesting that he helped to intimidate the photographer with the threat of force. What’s meant by “unusually aggressive” is unclear, although it would be fair to assume that referred to the photog’s refusal to be told by the woman that he couldn’t do something he had every right to do. Until the price appeared by a beating by Smith.
But the issue coalesced around an experience by writer Timothy B. Lee.
Just now I was standing in a park reading my phone and a woman in my phone's field of view wrongly decided I was taking pictures. She walked over and angrily told me to stop. Another guy called out "you can't take people's pictures without permission."
— Timothy B. Lee (@binarybits) September 20, 2020
There is no question of his having taken a picture of someone engaged in criminal conduct, or even entirely constitutional protest which might still be of concern. Indeed, he wasn’t filming at all, but if there’s a phone pointed in someone’s general direction, and they decide to assume pics are being taken, has there been a violation of the “new normal” that you need permission to take a picture of a person out in public? And what of the “white knight,” the guy who came to the mistaken woman’s “defense” with his flavor of what you can and can’t do?
There is no question of legality involved, and no issue of any collateral questions such as commercial use of images. It’s just the ordinary taking of a picture or filming in public. Or even the mistaken belief, given that it’s impossible to know whether someone is looking at their Tik Tok or filming you.
Will there be accusations, leading to screaming? Demands of proof that someone didn’t take a pic or if they did, to delete it? If a photog refuses the demand, which to the unduly passionate may be characterized as “unusually aggressive,” then what? Call in your muscle and beat the photog, smash the phone? What if there are weapons around?
A belief has somehow arisen that it’s wrong to photograph or film a person in public without their consent. Not illegal or unlawful, but just wrong. Consent has, over the past decade, taken on magical powers, a reversal of the notion of social norms in the hands of narcissists. Instead of society dictating norms by which individuals conduct themselves, every individual gets to decide their own norms and then enforce it upon society. If it means using force to do so, that’s part of the complicit culture that drives White Knights, or black marshals, to back it up with supportive dictates and implicit threats of violence.
Is it now the norm that one can’t take a picture or film a video out in public absent the consent of anyone in the frame? When it came to filming the police, the answer was clear, both because they were public servants engaged in their duties in public, but grounded in the historic norm that if someone is out in public, they are there for all to see. If you don’t want a pic taken of you, stay in your room. Go out and you’re fair game.
In the past, the law would provide some limit to how people reacted to conduct that involved them. But the law is merely the bottom line of what’s illegal, not the norm of what’s socially inappropriate.
I don’t necessarily think the law is the end of the story. There are lots of public behaviors that are rude but not illegal.
There are differences today than in the past, where an image of some random person might be taken but never seen by anyone outside a small circle of friends. Today, a picture or video might well appear on social media, and may include a characterization that’s negative, and falsely so, which brings opprobrium to the person in the image. Or worse. Imagine being the person in the next “distracted boyfriend” image and being the butt of memes for millions.
It’s become a minefield out there, both from the perspective of reading someone on one’s phone and being falsely accused of taking “creepy” pics of someone without their consent, to being engaged in an entirely normal activity in public, like mowing a lawn, and finding out you’ve become the target of a meme that will follow you for years. And add to that the possibility that something you say to a companion in public might be heard on a video outtake to make you the poster boy for something socially horrible.
And then, of course, there’s still the possibility that some marshal has a weapon and doesn’t take kindly to your refusal to comply with his command through a bullhorn.