COMMENT: Taking videos, photos of strangers for content is creepy, criminal

·Contributor
·6 min read
A woman shoots photos and records an amateur video for her vlogger friend with a handheld phone while outdoors in the Philippines. (Photo: Getty Images)
A woman shoots photos and records an amateur video for her vlogger friend with a handheld phone while outdoors in the Philippines. (Photo: Getty Images)

For some people, being recorded or photographed by a stranger resulted in good things. Such as the case of Jeyrick Sigmaton, an Igorot from the Mountain Province who became more known as “Carrot Man” back in 2016, when his “stolen photos” taken by a tourist without permission became viral on social media. According to thousands of people who commented on the viral photos, Sigmaton, who was seen carrying a basket of carrots on a vegetable farm, did not look like an Igorot and instead resembled a Korean drama star. I personally met Sigmaton sometime in 2017; he said that he landed more modeling, singing, and even acting gigs, thanks to his stolen photos. He was able to send his siblings to school and eventually landed a steady music career in Baguio City.

The same case can also be said about Rita Gaviola. Just like Sigmaton, she also became viral on social media in 2016 because of her viral stolen photos taken by a stranger during a festival in Lucban, Quezon. Gaviola also landed endorsement and modeling gigs and eventually became a housemate in Pinoy Big Brother.

Somehow, given how the habit of taking videos and photos of random, good-looking people and finding the next viral sensation became a thing online, people became even more comfortable and careless in casually taking videos and photos of random people – all without the subjects’ permission.

Can't we point out yet what is wrong here?

This question was raised to me just recently, after a discussion with a friend who is working as a flight attendant. My friend, without a doubt, carries rather more striking features that easily puts him in the “Good-looking” category. He is usually confident when he is around people as he is used to joining pageants and modeling gigs. He shared with me that he has already caught quite a lot of passengers taking videos of him while he is either performing the routine safety demonstration during take-off or doing the in-flight Duty Free or meal service.

Given how the habit of taking videos and photos of random, good-looking people became a thing online, people became even more comfortable and careless in casually taking videos and photos of random people – all without the subjects’ permission. Can't we point out yet what is wrong here?

This is all too familiar to me. Casual doomscrolling on Tiktok would reveal quite a lot of videos as he described. In these videos, we can see a good-looking person being recorded without their consent, accompanied by thirsty captions that, sometimes, are borderline creepy already. More often than not, the person who is taking the videos does not mean any harm; they probably just found the subject good-looking so they decided to take videos to show them to their friends or on social media.

But my friend said that he can never feel comfortable whenever he sees a passenger taking videos or photos of him, especially because he does not know how to handle such a situation; he feels like when he tries to stop a passenger from filming him, the passenger would fight back and that might lead to any unwanted commotion. Instead, after the flight, he would just anxiously check social media to try to find any new material with him in it.

“I do not think I will ever get used to it,” he told me. “It is hard to feel flattered that some few passengers find you attractive or good-looking when you are also anxious as to how you look in those videos and where they will actually end up. What do they plan to do with these materials? Who will be able to see these videos or photos? These questions never leave me.”

A man hypes himself up for a heavy lift, while a woman at the back takes photos and records videos of his feat with her phone for a vlog, social media post or story in Philippines. (Photo: Getty Images)
A man hypes himself up for a heavy lift, while a woman at the back takes photos and records videos of his feat with her phone for a vlog, social media post or story in Philippines. (Photo: Getty Images)

Essentially, my friend believes that the habit of taking videos or photos of a stranger is not always nice – it is also creepy and cringey.

And criminal, too, might I add.

The Safe Spaces Act, signed in 2019, prohibits sharing other people's photos online. While the law emphasizes the likes of catcalling, wolf-whistling, and unwanted sexual advances done in public spaces and online environments as prohibited acts of sexual harassment, the law also prohibits unauthorized recording and sharing of any of the victim's videos, photos, or any information and making unwanted sexual remarks and comments. These materials do not have to be explicit or sexual in nature.

We are already at a time where many social media users think that casually recording strangers is okay. If we do not stop here, where will this habit lead us? What else about us will be posted online without our consent?

How about the kinds of content where a user – usually with thousands of followers already – puts a camera hidden somewhere as they do their gimmick for their vlogs, like paying a supermarket customer’s grocery bill on the spot (portraying themselves as good Samaritans or something) or shocking strangers by ridiculous pranks in public? I always wonder what if I am pranked in a public place? Will I be able to be in the right state of mind to protest and say "Hey, do not post this video on social media"? Will I be able to educate the prankster and tell them that pranking and recording strangers in public is unlawful and just outright rude?

Laws in other countries vary, of course, and the norms vary in some specific situations. But all laws and norms aside, shouldn’t it be common sense already that it is not nice to secretly take videos or photos of someone, especially with the intent of posting them online? How would you feel if you find out that somebody has their phone directed at you? Wouldn’t you feel intimidated?

The varying trends on social media changed a lot of our habits and, eventually, norms. We were used to taking videos or photos just of ourselves, friends, and family; who would have thought we would suddenly become brazen in just casually recording other people, too, all in the name of content and clout?

We are already at a time where many social media users think that casually recording strangers is okay. If we do not stop here, where will this habit lead us? What else about us will be posted online without our consent?

Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who writes in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications. He covers cultures, media, and gender. The views expressed are his own.

Watch more videos on Yahoo:

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting