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What Happens When You Become Viral Content Without Your Consent

Timothy Goodman didn’t notice The camera is on him. It was September in New York, and the artist and graphic designer Goodman was having lunch near his art studio or walking home; he couldn’t remember exactly. He didn’t realize he was being filmed until days later, when friends sent him a TikTok By someone in a moving car.

The video shows Goodman and another man waiting to cross the street. You can’t see Goodman’s face because he’s looking down at his phone, but the man behind him is looking at the camera. Text overlaid on video shows one of the men lied about bail on a date and was arrested Getting stuck: “When he texts you that he can’t make dinner because he’s out of town for work but you see him crossing the street in your Uber.”

When friends sent TikTok messages to Goodman, he was bewildered — albeit a little confused — to find himself the subject of a viral video. But the premise is bogus: He doesn’t know Ellery Lee, the person who made TikTok, and he’s in a happy long-term relationship with his girlfriend.

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But no one on TikTok knows this. In the comments, people viciously insult Goodman and another person’s appearance. Meanwhile, Lee is responding to commenters telling them to wait for the full story.

“She was egging on like I was really her man and the whole thing was real,” Goodman told 24 News. “And then I kind of got upset.”

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The video garnered more than a million views on TikTok, and Lee eventually deleted it a few days later.

In a TikTok response to Lee’s video, Goodman made an emphatic plea. “It was a video that went viral and had hundreds of comments and people were talking about how disgusting I looked and how skinny I was and how she could do better. I just want to say maybe we don’t have to People have fun with complete stranger appearances online,” he said.

“Maybe we also shouldn’t be like posting strangers online without their consent.”

What happened to Goodman has become increasingly common in an era of ubiquitous camera phones and a perennial desire for internet influence. We film ourselves, our surroundings, people we know and people we don’t know, and we post casually. this is the era Panoramic content – everything is content for creation, everyone is a non-player character in minecraft.

TikTok has made people suddenly very popular and, as a result, has attracted an audience eager to investigate speculation and scrutiny.

“We’re living in a state of self-induced surveillance, and it’s no longer necessarily a government panopticon, but now everyone else pulls out their phones and is constantly filming and monitoring,” said Jenna Drenten, an associate professor at Quinlan College (Jenna Drenten) Business people who study digital consumer culture at Loyola University Chicago.

The allure of social media fame reinforces our desire to record and publish—whether ethical or not. There is all sorts of online content in which people are recorded or photographed without their knowledge or consent – on the subway for shopping In a car on the sidewalk of a restaurant in a bar. Many of these videos present strangers as NPCs, or non-player characters, an Internet term for people who aren’t seen as fully known, just part of the background. These strangers are shown as spectacle Leave millions of viewers around the world dumbfounded and subject to their judgment: people experiencing homelessness are objects of pity and disgust. A couple making out in public is an object of ridicule.

“In the larger context, it’s just a big problem, like now that people [want] to spread the virus at any cost,” Goodman said. “It doesn’t matter who the subject is or what it might mean for their life.”

Lee, an influencer with 30,000 followers on TikTok, said her content was meant to be self-deprecating and empathetic. She told 24 News that when she posts a video, the last thing she wants is for it to feed back to anyone in the video. But that’s the problem with TikTok; with Users of the app’s For You page can get content from anyone, anywhere, and videos can go viral regardless of the creator’s follower count. It also engenders a sudden, massive popularity that makes viewers eager to investigate speculation and scrutiny.

A woman holds a phone that resembles a sign that says "Smile, you're on camera"A woman holds a phone that resembles a sign that says "Smile, you're on camera"

record people’s daily lifeLiving and turning it into online content is nothing new. Blogs like People of Walmart, which shared user-submitted photos of unsuspecting Walmart shoppers, were early iterations of what happened in the late 2000s.

But thanks to apps like TikTok, the reach of social platforms is greater than ever, and our online social circles are wider. We no longer just keep track of the social media lives of our friends, family, acquaintances and celebrities; we now allow strangers to access our life – and everyone in it – and invites them to watch and participate.

“It’s an instant gratification and a reward for someone who can publish that content,” Drenten said. “They get a video that goes viral and it goes viral for a while.”

Our ability to film and post instantly on social media is not only a source of entertainment, it is also used as a powerful social tool. Ordinary citizens who document police interactions or acts of discrimination allow us to hold those in power and institutions accountable Including if the law does not do so. But looking at each other’s cameras for entertainment can lead people into morally murky territory.

Photographing and filming people in public is generally legal, and there is little legal recourse for those unhappy with their image being filmed in public. “It’s inevitable that we’ve been watching and being watched,” Drenten said. “publicly; in public spaces Your image is always up for grabs. ”

Ordinary citizens can make false claims against someone who deliberately or recklessly distorts their image in a highly offensive way, but these are high hurdles to clear and it costs a lot of money to take someone to court Mark Bartholomew University Law Professor Buffalo Focus on online privacy tells 24 News. (For example, when celebrities bring defamation charges against paparazzi, their burden of proof is higher because they are voluntary public figures who typically have more resources to combat false narratives about themselves.)

“Once you’re in a public area, people have a lot of freedom to record you without your permission,” Bartholomew said.

Although it’s in our nature to want to self-document, social media often amplifies our worst tendencies.

While it’s true that there is legally no expectation of privacy in public spaces, people have a reason to expect that their photos won’t be taken and shared online just because they left the house that day, said Kathy Fissler, an associate professor in the department. in Information Science from the University of Colorado Boulder, specializing in information ethics and law and online communities.

While it’s in our nature to want to self-document social media, Bartholomew argues that social media often amplifies our worst tendencies. “Entities like TikTok aren’t rewarding thoughtful curation and documentation. They’re rewarding sexy, controversial prank videos that generate point of view,” he said. “I think people have these good human urges to organize documents to share, and this platform really helps you do that. But at the same time, I think it also fuels these darker impulses. ”

TikTok certainly encourages our attention-seeking, but audiences aren’t blameless. Every time we watch a video and share it in our group chat, write a comment and post it on another platform, we are willing to participate in an increasingly harmful ecosystem. TikTok’s “For You” page Designed to differentiate between content you engage with and content you don’t, so if you’ve received multiple videos recording strangers, it’s likely that the app’s extremely efficient algorithms have found that content to occupy your attention .

In the grand scheme of our surveillance state, perhaps being the protagonist of today’s web isn’t the end of the world when public and private entities, including TikTok, pose even greater threats to our privacy and harvest our data in disturbing ways . But what if you resign casually? Our data being used may explain why we are increasingly willing to spy on each other.

“If you’ve been under surveillance, I think it’s OK to point your camera at other people without their permission and post it,” Bartholomew said. “I think our sense of privacy is slowly declining.”

When Lee whipped out her phone to document her day at Uber, she said she just photographed random people on the street and then captioned the video without thinking. As her TikTok went viral, she saw that people were interested in the story and wanted to know more. so she followed Tell people to stay tuned for updates.

“It’s just to fit into that story, because at the end of the day, it’s my role on TikTok. You kind of want to [draw] them,” she said. She often posts comedic videos about dating, where she fails like a dance behind the text she reads “He texted me at 12am asking me wyd in 3 months.” This is the narrative she created for the content – ​​“I embarrass myself”.

Lee’s viral video is an example of what Drenten calls storytelling, a popular form of social media content that adds a fictional or speculative context. The content of the storytelling seems like an innocuous manifestation of protagonist syndrome (a self-absorbed person who thinks he is protagonists in their lives), but it can also have unintended consequences as in Goodman’s case.

After Goodman responded to her TikTok, comments flooded in, criticizing her for filming strangers without their consent and making up stories. Lee deleted TikTok and made an apology video. “I agree consent is something that all social media should explore platform. Note that it was never my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings in making this video,” she said. (Lee also later deleted the apology video, which was criticized for saying that consent should be “explored.”)

She has faced backlash over the incident, telling 24 News that she has received death threats. While the experience has taught her to reposition herself and not others in her content, Lee believes filming in public — with or without permission — is inevitable.

“You can’t avoid it. Everyone has smartphones and cameras,” she said. “That’s what our generation has done.”

A phone screen's camera shows a man shielding his face as someone tries to take a picture of himA phone screen's camera shows a man shielding his face as someone tries to take a picture of him

 Lilly Simon was coming home  In July 2022, a stranger filmed her on the subway. Simon has neurofibromatosis type 1, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow along her nerves and look like bumps in the skin. It was the height of the mpox outbreak in New York City, and the people who posted TikTok zoomed in A monkey emoji and a question mark were superimposed on top of the bump on Simon’s skin, suggesting she had mpox.

It’s unclear how much engagement the video had, but it was so popular that Simon’s sister saw it a few days later and alerted her to it. By then, there was a flood of comments from people mocking her for appearing in public in shorts and even threatening her life.

When Simon saw TikTok, she told 24 News, her childhood memories of people making fun of her came flooding back. Then she got angry.

“I’ve had to deal with these people all the time, like the people in the comments section of this video, and of course the people who posted this video,” Simon said in response to the video on TikTok. “I will not let any of you reverse the years of treatment and recovery I have had to endure Deal with the situation, and of course the situations around people like you. ”

Simon, who has received a lot of support on her TikTok, told 24 News she is proud to help raise awareness about her condition. But she’s still famous for something she’s been trying to hide her whole life.

“The Internet is always there,” Simon said. “It’s irreversible.”

Although the person who posted the message contacted her on TikTok, Simon said she ignored their efforts to get in touch. “I don’t really remember some of the things he said,” she told 24 News. “I don’t think ‘sorry’ is one of them.” Douyin was eventually taken down. But whether or not the original poster apologized, Simon said the damage had already been done.

“The video is out there. It’s shared. It’s published. The internet is forever,” Simon said. “It’s irreversible.”

Even if the content posted is not overtly cruel, it can still be blatantly selfish at the expense of others. Australian TikToker Harrison Pawluk, who has 3.4 million followers, went viral last June when he videoed himself giving flowers to a woman in a shopping mall, describing it as an act Kind. In his video, he approaches the woman and asks her to hold a bouquet of flowers as he puts on his jacket. Then he walked away, leaving her the flowers.

“I hope this makes her day better [heart emoji],” he wrote in the caption, along with the hashtag #wholesome.

Pawluk added dramatic music to make the video more emotional, and his stunts were hailed as “beautiful” and “sweet” by critics. But the woman who filmed Maree – who declined to give her last name – later told ABC Radio Melbourne she never agreed Attending, she felt the encounter was “dehumanizing”.

“These artificial things are not random acts of kindness,” she said. “He interrupted the quiet time I was filming and uploaded a video without my consent, turned it into something it shouldn’t be, and I think he made a lot of money through it.”

More than 13 million people liked this video. Pawluk apologized after Maree’s interview aired, but said he would not stop making videos that “inspire” people to “do good”. The video continued to stream on his TikTok account.

Content like Pawluk aims to elevate creators to protagonists in the stories Drenten tells. “At the end of the day, it makes the content creators the heroes of the story,” she said, “because they get all the eyeballs on the internet and they get attention in the field. the price of others. ”

Regardless of your fame, being secretly recorded can be unpleasant. Keke Palmer has tweeted about a fan filming her in public, despite rejecting their repeated requests to be photographed. Bad Bunny throws his phone in water after trying to take selfie with fan he.

Sarah Isenberg, a 24-year-old influencer who primarily posts fashion content on her Instagram and TikTok, was spotted on a vlog by a stranger in New York City, she said she felt uneasy. She was photographed using someone else’s TikTok to cross the street while her face The video does not show a follower documenting the outfit she shared on Instagram and tagging her in it.

Isenberg is no stranger to people who recognize her through social media or ask for photos of her outfits. But she said it felt different.

“Someone posted this video of me on the internet without my knowledge and consent, and now someone on the internet that I don’t know recognizes me in this video, and it’s very upsetting to me, not even my face in it,” she told 24 NEWS information.

Isenberg knew the man who filmed her meant no harm. Fewer than 6,000 people viewed a video on the app on TikTok, a relatively small number of views. But the experience left her uneasy. It was as if she was being watched, but she didn’t know where and by whom.

“In the simplest terms, it’s kind of like The Truman Show—” she said, “everyone else is on it, but I’m not.” ●

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