How would you feel if someone posted an online video of you or a loved one in a private situation for the whole world to see? It’s scary how much video is being posted online that doesn't respect the privacy rights of others, including from marketers and other professionally minded people who still don’t understand that it can be considered harassment and in some cases is punishable by law.
Video Cuts Both Ways
We’ve already witnessed high-profile cases of online video causing victims severe trauma. What’s also happening is many of the perpetrators are now finding their own reputation ruined by their careless actions.
Many people know the story Tyler Clementi – the 18-year-old student a Rutgers University who killed himself in 2010 after his roommate, Dhaurn Ravi, hid a webcam in their room and streamed video online of his sexual encounter with another man without Clementi’s knowledge. Dhaurn plead guilty and served a 30-day jail sentence, and his reputation online will likely be tarnished for a lifetime.
The desire for attention and being “discovered” on YouTube has made criminals out of many others, who just see themselves as creative professionals or artistic entrepreneurs. Take the case of Evan Emory – a 23-year old musician, comedian and performance artist of Muskegon, Michigan. In 2011 Emory gained national infamy for a video he created with a friend and posted on YouTube. His video prank was his simulating sexual solicitations to first-grade students at an elementary school, which afterwards he submitted to the Tosh.0 website and a local nightclub he was a popular headliner at. Emory hoped that what he and his peers saw as creative edginess would lead him to more exposure and fame, and hopefully a career performing. He wound up instead with 60 days jail time and a felony conviction, along with two years probation and 200 hours of community service.
Whether it is for personal expression or professional aspirations, the perpetrators are often unaware of the emotional devastation they may cause victims, along with the numerous civil and criminal charges that could be brought against them. SFGate.com reported that
“Depending on the facts of the case and the state involved, the victim might be able to sue the person for defamation, publication of private facts, breach of confidence and other claims. Some acts can rise to the level of criminal offenses, including stalking and extortion.”
Fighting Online Video Privacy Violations with Support & Education
Erica Johnstone and Colette Vogele are attorneys and the co-founders of Without My Consent, a nonprofit organization seeking to combat online privacy violations and help victims of online harassment. Johnstone says that most invasions of privacy cases involving online video revolve around the publication of intimate images without the consent of the victim, and with the intent to publicly shame and deprive the victim of basic dignity.
“Video recording private situations to harm a person’s reputation through public humiliation and harassment is a growing tactic in online harassment,” explained Vogele.
Tips for Video Marketers With Respecting Privacy Rights
For all marketers and other professionally minded individuals, if you are already planning on having the video being used for commercial purposes (i.e., not solely “newsworthy” content), then you have to fully comply with all privacy rights. Here are a few ways to do just that and stay out of legal trouble:
DISCLAIMER: The following information is coming from an online marketing, and not a legal professional. It should not be construed as, or substituted for, legal counsel. It is strongly recommended that anyone needing such help contact an attorney trained in right-of-privacy issues!
- Avoid showing private individuals in your videos. That’s the obvious one. Even if they may just be in the background, they could still be distinguishable to an audience. If you are catching them in a compromising situation or exploiting them for commercial gain, then it could also be a defamation and right of privacy/publicity issue. And even if not, their image and likeness is a copyright issue.
- Get permission first – have anyone who happens to be recorded in a video, even by accident, be willing to sign a release.
- Can’t get permission, but need to use the footage? Block out their identities. YouTube’s Face Blurring Tool is a free and quick solution if you can accept having everyone’s face blurred out – allowing you to share sensitive footage without exposing the faces of individuals involved. However, you also have to look out for any other potentially identifiable characteristics, such as a birthmark or their clothing; and even of course, their own voice.
How Victims of Online Video Harassment Can Take Action
Not everyone can afford the costs of hiring an attorney. Here are a lot of things that can be done for free along with some affordable ways of protecting your privacy rights and reputation online:
Look into legal options
- Contact the video platform that is hosting the offending material. Usually a DMCA Takedown notice is good to submit in advance. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good explanation of YouTube’s DMCA takedown process.) If you don’t get a satisfactory response, then it may be time to hire an attorney to argue on your behalf to a judge to order the hosting site to disclose the private information on the offenders.
- Contact your state’s district attorney’s office. (Also check and see if your state has an eCrimes Unit.)
Consider a professional services provider
- Work with a reputation management service, like Reputation.com to bump down the offending video with higher-grade search results.
Do Some Research and Learn from the Victims
- Check out my previous article, “Fighting Video Harassment and Video Cyber-bullying,” featuring my interview with one woman who shared her own harassment experience involving online video, and how she was able to get it stopped. This also provides good information on how to gather information for properly filing a complaint, and taking preventative steps with the same or similar perpetrators.
- Also check out my other articles, “How to Defend Your Reputation Against Online Video Defamation,” and “Video SEO reputation management.”
Follow and join the discussion
- Learn about issues with online harassment. (Check out WithoutMyConsent.org’s FAQs page. and follow them on twitter. Also, understand what are the civil and criminal laws that address privacy violations typical in online harassment cases. Also check out WMC’s Resources page for in-depth research and discussion. (I especially recommend checking out the audio from the SXSW Interactive Debate with WMC’s President and Co-Founder, Colette Vogele; and Cindy Cohn, Legal Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.)
- Follow Without My Consent on Facebook and Twitter.
- Lend your voice and start a new dialogue. Most people understand that there needs to be a balance between free speech and privacy rights, and lending one’s own experience and what you’ve learned can help prevent others from making the same mistakes.
How Perpetrators Can Make Amends
- Find ways to help your victims before seeking fame or fortune. Donating your time to a nonprofit like Without My Consent is a good start!
- Consider offering a video apology (but first get the consent of the victims!) I say this part with great caution since doing a video apology on your own can work against you, especially if there is the potential for litigation from your actions. Check with both your own legal counsel first and/or the offended party (or whoever is representing them). If you do it solo, look into the camera and be genuine (and not sound scripted).
How We ALL Can Help
Consider making a tax deductible donation to WithoutMyConsent.org or another nonprofit that helps victims of privacy rights violations and online harassment. You can also volunteer your time and expertise, and even make a helpful video to spread the word!