This Is Why Posting a Selfie From a Protest Is Dangerous
Sharing photos from protests on social media could expose the identities of protesters.
With massive protests for racial justice and Black Lives Matter taking place across the U.S. over the past several days, many people may find themselves participating in demonstrations for the first time in their lives. And those new to protesting could have the instinct to capture the moment—whether to document it for those who aren't there, acknowledge their place in it, or otherwise show solidarity. But before you take and post a selfie—or any other snapshots—from a protest, think about the potential danger that sharing that photo on social media could cause. While you might only be intending to showcase yourself, there may be other people in the picture, and posting photos of protesters where their faces are visible is a serious privacy concern.
On May 31, singer Lana Del Rey learned this lesson when she received pushback for posting video from the protest she had attended. Her critics believed that by sharing footage from the protest, and by zooming in on protesters in attendance, she was exposing their identity to a wide audience. (Del Rey has 16.5 million followers on Instagram.) Other musicians, like Tinashe and Kehlani, asked Del Rey to remove her Instagram post, calling it dangerous. Ultimately, the post was taken down.
But even people without a platform like Del Rey's should think twice before sharing photos from protests in which other attendees can be seen clearly. As Wired notes, "Make sure you have permission to photograph or videotape any fellow protesters who would be potentially identifiable in your content. And think carefully before livestreaming. It's important to document what's going on but difficult to be sure that everyone who could show up in your stream is comfortable being included."
The widespread use of facial recognition software is a concern for many activists, but they note that photos posted on Facebook and Instagram could be dangerous regardless. "I'm really concerned about the potential use of social media surveillance to track down protesters or disrupt peaceful protests before they begin," Allie Funk, a research analyst at Freedom House, told Wired.
Because of these concerns, software engineers are developing tools to blur the faces of protesters in photos, making it easier for attendees to share images from the protests without exposing anyone to harm. Some people have taken to editing photos using simpler apps, or cropping images so that no one is identifiable. These steps might seem unnecessary to some, especially when so many protesters are wearing face masks, but activists believe that protecting the identities of demonstrators is worth the added effort.
So, while you may want to document your own presence at a demonstration, think carefully about what exactly you're showing—and who might see it. If your selfie puts anyone else in harm's way, was it really worth it?