Are There Ethics in Creepshotting?

And shouldn’t the present participle be ‘creepshooting’?

Photo: Ryan Dickey/Flickr

I have been told that Medium is a social network, so I would like to start a discussion, or perhaps definitely an argument. What are the rules about creepshotting—surreptitiously taking a photo of someone else with your phone while pretending to analyze some really inscrutable text message—besides possibly, “Just don’t?” We’ve all done it, we’ve all gotten caught, and I’m sorry to report that we’re all going to do it again. So how do we deal with this glaring contradiction between behavior and opinion?

Creepshots, as you can tell by the inclusion of the word ‘creep’ in the portmanteau, are not very nice. Even when you’re taking a picture of your friend who passed out in the backseat during a roadtrip, it is pretty mean, and an on-purpose kind of mean at that, because your aim is to catch that person in a vulnerable moment. Every once in a while, you creepshoot because you want to remember someone’s cool shoes, sure. But the great majority of the rest of the time, you are totally making fun of the shoes.

As a general rule, taking someone’s photo without their permission is pretty sneaky and bad. Sometimes it is very painfully and obviously bad and wrong—a “Wholebrity” named Dani Mathers was reported to the police last week for creepsnapping a nude woman in the locker room at her gym. But there are obviously exceptions for when it’s kind of okay, like if someone is doing a crime and you are recording that fact, or actually, yeah, I’m not sure when else it’s okay? A media lawyer can probably sort this out better than I can. Something-something two-party consent, public and private spaces, hidden cameras, etc.

Rate the following shots on a scale of one to citizen’s arrest: Taylor Momsen on the 1 Train, the guy riding Boston’s green line while wearing and using a VR headset, the now-deleted Instagram picture that Michael Bublé’s WIFE took of a woman at their gym, every picture ever taken of Jake Gyllenhaal on the subway. Do you weight these on how famous the subject is? Is it actually creepier if the person is not rockstar famous and is just trying to read the New York Post in peace on her commute (Jill Abramson)? How about if the subject is sitting with his legs and arms crossed, finger gently holding his chin, and staring DIRECTLY into the camera (Ray Karpovksy)? What if it’s EXTREMELY FUNNY, like a picture of a man in an elevator at 30 Rock, wearing a tux, his chin scrunched into his bowtie as he’s typing furiously into his phone and it’s completely apparent there is NO ONE ELSE in the elevator except the creepshot-taker (Lorne Michaels)?

I think even if you are creeping with good intentions (???), like I guess catching someone in a lie, it still seems technically wrong. Have we all just become citizen paparazzi, snapping and shooting each other for our own personal amusement? Did I just argue myself into a very British understanding of privacy? No, because privacy is an illusion, and we will never be able to regulate creepshots. But it is sweet to think of some bleeding-heart neo-Libertarian bro covering his phone’s camera with a swatch of tape.

For today, I would prefer instead to tackle a slightly easier topic: creepshots of dogs. First off, are they even creepy? I think not, but I’m not a dog owner so I’m not legally allowed to say. Or are they largely understandable? I mean, like kind of weird, sure, but relatable, right? I’m not even going to get into cats because it seems like cats belong to no one and also what about bodega cats? It’s the cats’ world and we just live in it, I’m told by the cat owners.

Dog owners: do you hate it when strangers take photos of your dog on the street? I bet dog walkers probably care less than dog owners. Is it especially annoying because it’s only highlighting and amplifying how people mostly only look at and interact with your dog and not you when you’re out walking? Or do you not mind it so much as long as your dog is not immediately before, after, or in the act of taking a shit? Is it more acceptable when you, the creepshooter, have your own dog in tow? Asking for a friend.

Specifically my friend, Brian Feldman.

Please like and share and add your opinions below.