The Shaming Of Strangers
April 17, 2014

The Shaming Of Strangers

In the never ending search for new sources of titillation on social media sites, a new trend has emerged and it is dividing opinion in a big way. It has been labelled “stranger shaming” and the latest incarnation – “Women Who Eat On Tubes” – has caused a big stir here in the UK. Whether you approve or not would probably depend on your attitude to being photographed in public, without your consent, when you are doing something you would prefer not to share with thousands or perhaps millions of strangers. Consider the following scenario.

You are late for work. You were so late you had no time to get breakfast. You almost break your neck trying to get to the Tube (London’s Underground train network, though any public transport system will do) on time. You make it with enough time to buy something to eat on the train, a big breakfast muffin maybe, or a bacon sandwich, a banana, a chocolate bar. Once on the train, at that critical moment when your mouth is wide open and stuffed with your makeshift breakfast, some smart-arse with a smartphone takes your highly unflattering picture. You probably won’t even know until a friend tells you they have seen your food-filled face on Facebook or some other site with a zillion hits every day. OK, some people might like it – their 15 minutes of fame – but a lot of others will hate it, and the worst of it is the derogatory “shaming” comments that get posted. So just how would you feel?

Other themes on the same lines are “Men Who Take Up too Much Space On The Train,” “Sleepy Commuters,” and “People On The Bus,” all of which are dedicated to the same type of clandestine, candid photo grabbing and online posting. If you want to read how it affected one victim, read this excellent article here. The Women Who Eat on Tubes site got some adverse comments in the press, which inevitably saw its hit rate soar and thousands of new members joined the group. Group founder Tony Burke claims it is obsevational art. Or is it invasion of privacy? Is it sexist as some have claimed? Is it inappropriate, an invasion of privacy?

Last Friday. April 11th, the site was removed from Facebook. Members claimed Facebook had taken it down, Facebook claimed it was an error. The end result, however, is that it is now a private group, though of course that means little.

As a photographer, I have often taken shots of people without their knowledge. Importantly, the intention has never been to shame or denigrate the person involved. I would never condone or allow their use where they would attract the type of aggressive trolling comments that these stranger shaming memes thrive on. To my mind, this is weak-minded bullying from afar, exploitative and at its worst, quite cruel. To anyone who thinks this is a way to make art or finds themselves attracted to such images, I would say, surely there are better ways to use a camera and better ways to spend your time. People are not just wildlife. As for those who post the shaming comments, you have to ask would they have the courage or even the total lack of decency to do the same in a face to face situation? Maybe they would, but I suspect most wouldn’t. It’s the anonymity of the Internet that feeds the frenzy.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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