Tuesday, October 11, 2022

If You Have a Phone


“If you have a phone, you have a lawyer.”

Do you remember this slogan from an old Baltimore area television commercial? It came to mind when I was thinking about something that happened last week. But, instead of that wording, I heard:

If you have a phone, you have a camera.

When the telephone threat to River Hill High School last Tuesday triggered a lockdown and response by local police, it happened close enough to dismissal that parents were beginning to arrive. It was terrifying enough at home. I can’t imagine what it felt like to be right there on the scene. 

What do you do? You’re there. You can’t do anything. You feel helpless. You get out your phone and see the posts of anxious parents on Facebook.

Does anybody know what’s happening?

Well, I do, you think. And you start taking pictures and posting them to social media.

If you have a phone, you have a camera.

This is how photographs of students at the school - -minors - - were shared on the internet in the midst of a crisis. These students were in handcuffs, not because they had done anything wrong, but because of pre-established police protocol. (And that’s another story altogether.)

In the same way that my having a blog does not qualify me to be a journalist, your having a phone with a camera does not qualify you to be an on-the-scene reporter. We forget that. Local news outlets may assist in blurring those lines when they ask to use still photos and video footage taken by local citizens.

But that does not mean that anyone with a phone should feel free to play cub reporter. Journalism has rules, ethics. There are things to think about before you go to print, or go on air, or click to post. Take a look at the NPPA Code of Ethics.

I was angered by those photos (which admin did an excellent job of taking down once they were aware.) My response online lacked subtlety or tact.

I’m going to say something rude here, and will gladly delete if asked by admin, but any adults who photographed the students who were in handcuffs and posted it on social media don’t have the sense God gave a grasshopper. It was irresponsible and hurtful.

You don’t post photos of minors without their consent/their parents consent. Period. Just because you don’t see the hoops that photojournalists jump through to get it right doesn’t mean you are excused. Resist the urge to be the first on scene to share those pics. You don’t need to be that person.

You could be causing harm. Harm that you cannot undo. Lasting harm.

On Sunday I saw a well-known local amateur photo enthusiast doing his usual thing at Howard County Pride. I had a strong visceral reaction. Taking pictures without consent at a Pride event is nothing like snapping pics at the Lakefront Fourth of July festivities. You have no idea of knowing who feels safe being identified at a Pride event and who does not. Their stories are not your story to tell unless they trust you and give you their consent. 

You could cause harm. Harm that you cannot undo. Lasting harm.

Please think before you appoint yourself a citizen journalist. I know it’s easy to forget. Take the extra step to stop and think if what you are doing could hurt someone. One week ago today some of our local students went through a terrifying experience and someone, without thinking, added to their trauma. 

I rarely say this, but, friends: we can do better. 

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