Why You Shouldn’t Post Protest Pictures Online

Our social media feeds are filled with posts discussing racial inequality right now. The conversation is an incredibly important one, and the sight of our friends and online acquaintances letting their voices be heard can be truly heartening. But there's a serious downside to consider.

In the age of social media, photography has become another way for people to share their stories, and the story we’re telling right now in the fight against racial injustice is one of the most important ones we’ll experience. “The ability for the public to document what is going on is an important tool for holding powerful people and institutions accountable, including the police,” Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future, told the Washington Post. And he’s right. Videos taken by the public, live streams of events, and photographs documenting unfair treatment of protestors by law enforcement have inspired real change. With hard evidence like this, the public is able to demand accountability and actionable change in a way it couldn’t have before the advent of smartphones. Speaking of smartphones, this is why you need to change your phone’s settings before protesting.

Documenting the protests is a powerful tool in the fight against racism, but it can also be a dangerous one. The image that inspires a nation can also be one that invites anyone with opposing viewpoints to know exactly who you are and where you are.  It is important to protect yourself and your fellow protesters when documenting your protesting experience.

There are more cameras on the streets today than ever before in history. Almost everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times, cars and doorbells take constant videos of their surroundings, not to mention the extensive security camera system run by or accessible to police officers, or the avid journalist and reporter presence common at protests. If you’ve been at a protest, someone has a photo of you there. Here’s what that means: everyone has access to that photo. And we mean everyone.

This issue has been part of the conversation surrounding protests since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. In March of 2019, CBS News reported on the deaths of several men tied to the St. Louis protests and spoke extensively on the continuous threats received by other leaders of the movement continue to receive.  As images of the latest round of protests circulate, many fear that individuals visible in them will become targets something similar.

If you are posting photos of protests, make sure to follow these guidelines.

Avoid showing people’s faces

And not just their faces, but also defining scars or tattoos or anything else that is easily identifiable should be blurred or covered up when possible.

With the advanced facial recognition software available today, it is all too easy for police or groups with malicious intent to track down individuals from protest photos and videos. The problem has gotten so pervasive, that Amnesty International has called for a ban on using facial recognition during the global protests. With COVID-19 still very much a concern, many protesters are wearing masks, and while that can help protect their identity, it isn’t a foolproof solution. Adding sunglasses and a hat can help further protect your identity when photographed.

Ask permission before you post

Know everyone in the shot? And we mean everyone! Double-check if anyone appears in the background of your shot, too. Ask their permission before sharing or posting the photo or video online where anyone can get access to it. Remember: Some people are risking their jobs by showing up to a protest, and even without facial recognition, a boss or coworker might be able to recognize someone even with a mask on. Protect others at the protest by being mindful and asking permission.

Edit your photos

Free apps and photo editing software are everywhere. Blur or blackout identifying features when necessary, and don’t save the unedited version on a public app. Learn more about other ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement and become anti-racist than just protesting.

Consider your motivation

We all have an opinion on what’s happening around us, and it can be tempting to share ours with the world, but is a protest photo the best way to do it? Can the same point be made with a different photo or thoughtful caption? A protest is a place to voice your opinions on injustice and not the backdrop to a photoshoot. Stay safe and keep those around you safe by being mindful of what you’re sharing.

For more on this important issue, see our guide to the Fight Against Racism.

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Isabel Roy
Isabel Roy has been a writer and editor for RD.com since February of 2019. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing and Rhetoric. She is thrilled to be living and working in the Big Apple although she misses the easy access to freshly made Wisconsin cheese curds and Kopps Custard. When not at the Reader’s Digest office, you can find her downing too many chai lattes and rereading her favorite Harry Potter books.