I was reading an article by Nell Frizzell published in the Guardian on Friday 4th October 2013. She was talking about Tumblr accounts, something that I have never heard of before but it seems to be taking off like a house on fire. As the article says “Tumblr accounts dedicated to secretly photographing, uploading and then critiquing fellow commuters, have spored like bed bugs on a bus seat.”
British law on photographing people in the street or on public transport is far from clear. Although the European Convention of Human Rights orders that we all have the right of privacy, legally you do not actually have to ask the permission of those you may wish to photograph on a train or bus or other public place. Every day there are blogs which post secretly taken photos of commuters with the mission of shaming. I just looked at one: Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train. This blog collects photographs of what the site’s caretaker describes as “a classic among public assertions of privilege”. But let’s face it none of the men photographed are actually doing anything wrong. Put aside the fact that the photos may arguably make an interesting visual representation of the way men seem to think they are empowered to take up as much space as they like when women mostly don’t, we still have to ask ourselves, is it morally right that these men whose photographs have been uploaded are being judged by strangers without their knowledge?
As Nell Frizzell rightly asserts “Turn that gender picture on its head and perhaps you’ll see why this is unacceptable. Were a man to secretly photograph me – a young woman- upload that photo to Tumblr and invite comments from other users, I think my sisters would be throwing up their hands in horror.” As the article goes on to point out there does not seem to be the same outcry against women who upload submissions to Hot Guys On The Train, a daily collection of chosen male commuters.
There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that Nell Frizzell is absolutely correct in stating “I, for one just don’t think we should shoot strangers in public spaces.” I firmly believe that our right of privacy needs to be staunchly reinforced. To take a photograph of a handbag held by a fellow commuter who cannot be indentified is entirely different from uploading a snap of Hitler on the bus which was hooted at by millions. It was only a photo of a man on a bus in Plymouth. What gave anyone the right to upload this and breach this man’s privacy by turning him into a laughing stock. It is just wrong.