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The new digital paparazzi

By Peter Black - posted Monday, 14 April 2008

Today you don’t have to be a celebrity to have photographers monitoring your every move. We are all now surrounded by new “digital” paparazzi. Every person with a mobile phone camera is potentially able to capture your most embarrassing, amusing and human moments and distribute it via the Internet to the world at large.

This digital paparazzi are likely to be your friends and they may distribute photos of you not out of malice and almost certainly not for financial gain, but simply because the photos are entertaining, unusual or funny.

This digital paparazzi may even distribute photos of you automatically or out of habit without even thinking about you and your feelings. That is simply what this digital paparazzi do after a night out.


In fact, you may even be your own paparazzo.

Teenagers and young adults routinely take photos of themselves and their friends in all sorts of situations, some innocent and some not so innocent, and post them easily to their Facebook or MySpace page on the Internet.

Indeed, recently swimmer Stephanie Rice was her own paparazzo when revealing photos of her were discovered on her Facebook page.

The media gleefully published these photos even though her Facebook page would be far from unique for a teenager, and those photos would be tame compared to some.

However rather than criticise the media or weigh in on the debate surrounding appropriate standards of behaviour for sports starts, I believe this incident demonstrates how technology has resulted in teenagers and young adults having a very different conception of privacy.

Younger generations have grown up in a digital world. More than merely being computer literate, they are completely comfortable with the technology. They have grown up with computers, the Internet and digital photography, They are used to chatting with their friends in chat rooms or by instant messaging. And they consider it normal to have friends that they have only ever met through the Internet.


This is a strange and confronting world for many parents and adults, but it is very much the real world for many teenagers and young adults today.

It is a sign of how comfortable younger generations are within this digital world, that they are prepared to share with others in that world information that would once have been considered private or personal. Digital photographs of themselves and others are nothing more than part of the information they are willing share

Whereas in years gone by you would reminiscence about hysterical, fun and even drunken times by chatting about it at school, uni or work the next day, now you remember those same times by posting your photos online to a Facebook or MySpace page and discussing or commenting upon them on those same pages.

Before parents and adults judge the actions of their children or of other young people, they should think back to what compromising images of themselves may have been available on the Internet if digital cameras had been around when they were growing up.

However, despite the hypocrisy, teenagers and young adults - especially if they are thrust into the public sphere like Stephanie Rice - are not held up to the standards or the conception of privacy of their own generation, but that of their parents.

It is the therefore prudent that all of us are cognisant of our own digital footprint - the amount of information that is available about us online.

We can all control the amount of information we disclose about ourselves online and we should do so cautiously. Sites like Facebook or MySpace also have privacy settings that allow the user to control exactly who sees what. If Stephanie Rice had limited her profile only to “friends” and had not left it open to the world at large, she most likely would not have been embarrassed.

If you come across information about yourself online that you do not like, email or message whoever posted it to remove that information. In most cases, that person will happily do so. If they won’t your best option is usually to post a comment or reply to that information or photo to place it in its proper context.

If you monitor your digital footprint and exercise common sense when posting information and images online, you should avoid being embarrassed at some later point in time.

As for finding what the new digital paparazzi are up to, there is nothing wrong with Googling yourself. You might be surprised what you find.

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About the Author

Peter Black is an associate lecturer in law at the Queensland University of Technology. He blogs at Freedom to Differ.

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