TikTokers, filming strangers may make you famous but it's morally wrong

It seems the days of being approached in the street by a friendly person with a clipboard asking about your broadband provider are long gone.

Now, every time we open TikTok we’re greeted with startled members of the public, stuttering and laughing awkwardly on camera after unknowingly signing away their rights on a permission slip for viral fame.

Sometimes, with devastating consequences.

While it may have once been incredibly jarring to imagine a stranger running up to you as you do your weekly shop and filming you for social media, these types of interactions have become normalised.

And it’s terrifying.

In the age of TikTok, invading people’s personal space in the name of entertainment is apparently the standard.

Everyday online, I come across multiple videos of ‘content creators’ filming members of the public, asking them to play games, take part in quizzes, or do silly challenges.

And it’s probably done without their consent; without an approval form that’s been signed.

These people are filmed before they’re even aware they’re being filmed – and look as if they have zero control over where that content ends up.

After a few personal questions, like: ‘How often do you shave?’ or ‘What’s your favourite sex position?’ a TikToker or YouTuber walks away, and is free to do what they please with their precious footage.

How is that right? How have we reached a point where we should just expect to go viral every time we walk out the door?

In the age of AI especially, who knows what could happen with that footage? How it could be edited or morphed to fit into whatever the creator desires.

If you want to film someone for social media, that’s a conversation to be had long before the camera starts rolling

Sure, that sounds like I’m going from zero to 100, but in today’s world, anything is possible. 

We’ve heard AI-generated songs using the voices of famous artists, and even about porn deep-fakes, so I really don’t think it’s unrealistic for me to suggest the worst that could happen.

Recently, a TikTok video went viral after someone approached a group of youngsters, tapping them on the back and asking for high fives.

The creator’s intentions seemed innocent enough, but one member of the group was instantly taken aback, with the rest forming a huddle around them as they started to shake and become tearful. 

It was extremely uncomfortable viewing, seeing how their demeanour changed in a matter of seconds because of that one person’s actions. 

Consequently, the individual’s reaction spread and a torrent of abuse followed.

Social media users blasted them for ‘overreacting’, totally bewildered at why a person would feel uncomfortable in that situation.

#stitch with @Ber.ryKatie

It later emerged that the panicked person from the video, which has earned millions of views, is hard of hearing, autistic, and has contamination OCD. 

They confessed to now feeling scared to leave their house after what happened, and having to limit their social media comments after being torn to shreds for their startled reaction.

Hearing this made me so sad, because not only does it show how quick people online are to jump to conclusions and rip into people they don’t know, but it demonstrates just how awful the consequences can be of filming or touching strangers without consent.

I’ll never forget being 15, walking through town and browsing the shops with friends, and having a middle-aged man appear from nowhere and put his arm around my waist, whispering in my ear.

I couldn’t tell you a single thing he said, but I know how I felt. I froze with fear. Panic rushed through me. It wasn’t until a friend pulled me away that I snapped out of that terrified trance.

It goes without saying that, by existing in public, I’m not offering you an invitation to touch me, nor am I fair game for a stupid attempt at a viral video.

Yet, content creators don’t care – they’ve got the followers, the views, the sponsorships, and the clout. Their consideration for the subjects in their videos goes out the window as soon as they stop recording.

I also believe that women bear the brunt of abuse when it comes to going viral, too.

Whether someone is mocking your appearance, your weight, or laughing at you without knowing your personal trauma, appearing on the internet as a woman opens you up to all kinds of harassment – and god forbid someone is able to identify you and message you personally.

While writing this piece, in fact, I saw a zoomed in video on Twitter of someone making fun of an elderly woman for how she was eating an ice cream in her car, making sexual innuendos.

So, while you might want to argue that filming people in public is totally harmless, I put it to you that going about our lives, as women especially, makes it impossible to escape sexualisation and being treated as an object for public consumption.

But people don’t just go viral after having cameras physically shoved in their faces. Sometimes, they’re filmed from a distance. Sometimes, it’s a guy in a hotel looking out of his window.

I follow one TikToker who has a ‘people watching’ series, where he secretly records members of the public without them knowing. He then adds a funny voice over, and does impressions of what he thinks the people will be saying to each other.

It’s hilarious, admittedly. I’ve laughed over it. But when you think about how creepy that really is, how can we condone it?

No, it isn’t ‘illegal’ to film people on the street, but that doesn’t make it morally right and, if you’re a content creator, at what point did you decide to shove aside your morals and the welfare of others for likes?

If you want to film someone for social media, that’s a conversation to be had long before the camera starts rolling. Informed consent is equally as important, as that person must be aware of the size of your platform and what they might be agreeing to.

By not having that discussion before whipping out your phone, you’re crossing all kinds of ethical lines.

While I have a profound love for social media, without a doubt, one of the worst things to come from it is how people appear to have lost all sense of boundaries.

People will do anything for their 15 minutes.

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