Why it's time to stop shaming strangers on social media

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
Stranger shaming on public transport is a worrying new trend [Photo: Nick Ansell/PA]
Stranger shaming on public transport is a worrying new trend [Photo: Nick Ansell/PA]

Ever grabbed a sarnie to eat on the tube, sat with your legs a little too far apart or fallen asleep on your journey home?

Beware! Because your commuter ‘crimes’ could see your picture pop up on social media accounts set up specifically to call out your audacious behaviour.

For those in the dark, ‘stranger shaming’ is when someone takes a photo of you without your consent and uploads it to a social media account purely for the purpose of p**staking.

Case in point Hetty Douglas. The London-based artist recently took to social media to share an Instagram story of some men wearing tracksuit bottoms and waiting in line in McDonalds with the caption: “These guys look like they got 1 GCSE.”

Social media users were quick to call out the stranger shaming of the men [Photo: Twitter/rhiharper]
Social media users were quick to call out the stranger shaming of the men [Photo: Twitter/rhiharper]

Thankfully social media users were quick to condemn the artist’s post, but she’s certainly not the only one to shame strangers online purely for the lols.

Remember Dani Mathers? The Playboy model prosecuted for secretly Snapchatting the picture of a naked woman in the showers at her gym alongside the caption: “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.”

That was quickly followed by Diana Andrews, an Insta-famous body builder from London, who shared a photo of a women working out at the gym to her Instagram Stories. The image, taken from behind, shows a woman running on the treadmill with the text “love handles” emblazoned below her hips.

As if that wasn’t enough. The next slide of the story contained the words “I bet she’s ordering burgers for delivery.”

Diana later apologised and said she “deeply regrets” sharing the video.

Then there was that poor woman who fell asleep with a pizza on her lap on the Central line back in April and was subjected to the pleasure of having her picture plastered all over the Internet.

This unsuspecting woman was shamed for daring to fall asleep on the tube (We’ve all been there!) [`Photo: Twitter]
This unsuspecting woman was shamed for daring to fall asleep on the tube (We’ve all been there!) [`Photo: Twitter]

Oh and men who dare to sit with their legs that little bit too far apart aren’t exempt from stranger shaming either. ‘Manspreading’ is big news online with Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram revealing thousands of men being shamed for their so-called unsociable sitting stance.

Following the high-profile examples of gym shaming, many gyms have taken to putting up signs in changing rooms reminding people not to take pictures of other gym-goers.

But should we really need reminders that taking pictures of people without their consent or knowledge and sharing them for all the world to see is totally unacceptable?

Clearly though, the reminders are necessary. Back in 2014, ‘stranger shaming’ really came to the fore after a Facebook group entitled ‘Women Who Eat On The Tube’ was uncovered.

Created by 39-year-old artist Tony Burke, who explained that covertly snapping women eating on their commute was “the London equivalent of wildlife photography”, at one stage had more than 15K members (it has since been disbanded).

Several of the group’s unknowing subjects have since come forward to say they felt violated – like Sophie Wilkinson who told the Debrief that she felt hurt and humiliated after seeing her picture on the site.

“Though the group information states it ‘doesn’t intimidate or bully’, I felt victimised. And hurt,” she wrote.

“Was it really not the original poster’s intention to humiliate me by accompanying the photo with the caption ‘Good to be contributing more than rubbish chat!’?”

“Is the site really not intending to show up women as undignified and sloppy for doing something so basic as eating on the tube?”

And this humiliation can have psychological implications for those who have been shamed. A recent survey by Slimming World revealed that overweight people cited being photographed without permission as one of three reasons they were ashamed to go out in public and consequently were avoiding exercise, or seeking solace in food.

Dr Gayle Brewer, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Central Lancashire agrees that stranger shaming can have serious consequences for the subject.

“Realising that you have been filmed or that your image has been posted to the internet can be extremely upsetting,”she told the Independent. “People can feel that others are judging them, talking about their appearance and behaviour, leaving them feeling vulnerable and anxious.”

So what does the law say about stranger-shaming?

Whilst the European Court of Human Rights states that we have a right to privacy, there is no law which specifically bans stranger shaming, unless the content of the photograph is sexual in nature.

For other types of stranger shaming, other than urging social media sites to better monitor their content, it may well be down to the individual covert photographer to tap into their moral compass and not take the picture in the first place.

And if they really can’t resist, let’s hope they can stop themselves sharing it to social media. Because stranger shaming isn’t big, it isn’t clever and it really isn’t on.

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