Social media photo tip: If you’re going to break the law, don’t take pictures or videos to share with the world.
Why? (Yes, I have to answer this question).
These pictures could be used against you in a court of law, or worse.
What’s worse than a court of law? The worldwide social media community has a court of its own. It’s the global court of public opinion – albeit amplified by our ability to quickly like, favorite, share and comment on purported criminal acts before someone has even been officially charged with a crime.
Innocent until proven guilty does not exist in social media. You’re guilty if the mob wielding social media pitchforks and torches says you’re guilty.
If you give the mob a photo as evidence of your guilt, sentencing is instantaneous.
This new social media court of public opinion is fueled, in part, by the combination of three important ingredients:
1. The proliferation of cameras and recording devices.
2. The ease of sharing content with a public audience.
3. Stupid people who post dumb pictures and videos.
The sheer amount of cameras and video devices at our disposal is staggering. I just did a quick count of cameras in the Earnheardt house. I found 14. There’s probably one or two I don’t know about.
Two decades ago most of us were using film in our cameras. We didn’t worry about the ease of access to our images. We took pictures, developed them (my favorite was the drive-thru Foto Hut), and reviewed pictures we wanted to share while being careful not to leave fingerprints on the gloss.
Some of the pictures ended up in a photo album. The rest ended up in a shoebox in the back of a closet.
With mobile devices, we take photos and post them for the world to see in a matter of seconds.
Walter Palmer, an America dentist, probably wishes this was 1995, and that the picture taken of him and Cecil the Lion was in a shoebox.
By now you’ve heard Cecil’s plight.
Cecil was one of Zimbabwe’s most-popular lions being studied by a group of Oxford University researchers. The lion was living in a protected zone and was purportedly lured, with meat, into an open hunting area.
According to reports, Palmer paid $50,000 to hunt a lion, not necessarily Cecil. Palmer purportedly shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, tracked it for two days, and ultimately killed it with a rifle.
Then, someone took a picture of Palmer with his prized kill.
That picture, and Cecil’s story, subsequently went viral on social media. The social media mob was quick to sentence Palmer for killing Cecil. PETA, for example, tweeted that Palmer should be “extradited, charged and preferably hanged.”
It was the world v. Walter Palmer.
Of course, Palmer probably would have framed that picture and hung it on his trophy wall at home, not necessarily his Facebook wall.
Hopefully, some people learned an important lesson from all of this. Taking pictures of potentially criminal acts is a bad idea (because they will end up on social media).
Oh, and killing endangered animals is bad, too.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.