So You Want to Take A Photo of A Stranger and Make It Go Viral

Read this first.

I was mindlessly scrolling my social media feed over the weekend (which I really ought to stop doing, but that’s another story) when I chanced upon a photo of a guy who looked like a student eating alone at a restaurant or fast-food outlet. It was actually a screenshot of a photo that was taken from another social media platform (maybe Tiktok or Instagram) and then reposted on Facebook. 

The caption went somewhere along the lines of, “Ganyan ba ang walang close friends or even classmates? Kumakain mag-isa? Kawawa naman.”  


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This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a post that went viral using photos of strangers for so-called “content.” There was that one with a group of titas having an innocuous catchup session at a café; or that girl wearing a fancy dress or gown in line at a convenience store; or a couple enjoying some alone time at a park. It’s not all that surprising, really. When everybody and their mother has a cellphone, expect anything and everything to be digitized and eventually make their way into the circus that is social media.

In some ways, this predilection to capture everyday events and share it with the world has led to some pretty interesting and even important exposes. We are all thankful when obvious wrongdoings are photographed or caught on video, helping bring perpetrators to justice. 


But when they’re ordinary people minding their own business, is it ever okay to whip our phones out and start recording?

The answer there depends on how you would respond if things were the other way around. How would you react if you suddenly see pictures of yourself eating alone at that corner table in the fast-food outlet going viral? Or people making fun of your OOTD? It’s not so amusing when you suddenly become the butt of the joke, or everybody starts feeling sorry for you, and you have to defend yourself for simply existing and doing normal, everyday things.

Thankfully, many so-called “content creators” are aware now of the basics of preserving privacy in this hyperconnected world. They know better than to post anything that might conclusively identify anyone whose photo or video they just took, especially if it’s anything less than flattering.

And that’s the trick if you can’t help yourself from posting photos online of strangers you see on the street—at least make sure that they remain anonymous. If you must take a snapshot of that guy at the concert wearing the funny shirt, or the girl with the funky hair in front of you at the MRT, make an effort to blur out their face or any other distinguishing feature. Make fun of them if that’s really where you get your jollies, but please, for the love of god, don’t subject them to the humiliation of becoming “internet famous” without their consent. Better yet, instead of sharing them on your public social media profile, maybe you can just share them to a private chat group (which, I’m guessing most of us have done in one form or another). Anything so we don’t unintentionally make somebody go viral for all the wrong reasons. 

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In this day and age when mobile phones are practically attached to our wrists, we all know and understand the power a single image or video clip can have. Even when we initially think them to be harmless and “just for fun,” the emotional scarring it can cause on those who never wanted the attention in the first place can be lasting and irreparable.

While there are clearly those of us who seek attention and validation from our circles on social media, many more of us just want to live our lives in privacy and in peace. And as long as we’re not out there running people over with SUVs or brandishing loaded guns at cyclists, we don’t deserve to have our likeness floating around social media and being made fun of for things like dressing funny or eating alone.  

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Nick Aguila
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