How to avoid unwanted photos on social media

Before you start stressing, consider your options: you can tag yourself, ask the person to delete the photo or video, or report the post if it violates the platform’s rules. In extreme cases, a lawsuit may be filed.

Here’s what you should know.

It’s probably legal

In the US, whoever takes a photo is the copyright owner, so they usually have the freedom to share the photo wherever they want — especially if it was taken at a public event, said Mallory King, a copyright and internet law attorney at Traverse Legal in Michigan.

“Unless they’re trying to defame you or commercialize the photo, it’s probably fine to post it on their social media page,” Ms King said. However, if your friend didn’t take the photo, it can be reposted without permission, which is illegal, she added. If you took it, you can report the post as your intellectual property to have the social media site remove it.

Different rules apply in other countries. French law normally requires people to give their consent before they can be photographed in private places or their images published. And anyone convicted of posting someone’s image without permission faces up to a year in prison, although the country’s privacy regulator is urging people to request the removal of images before filing a complaint.

It’s still unethical

Although the person posting your image without permission might be legally entitled to do so, it could raise ethical concerns. You don’t know how this might affect your life outside of the event – maybe you’re looking for a new job and don’t want your future boss to see you at a crazy bachelorette party.

“You could feel very exposed or violated if you see the photo online but haven’t given permission,” said Elaine Swann, a manners expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol in California.

Many people are not at all comfortable appearing online. And even those who are ok with it sometimes want to control what’s posted.

If you’re job hunting and don’t want potential employers to see your social media history, you can temporarily disable your account. To do this, in the Meta Platforms iPhone app for Facebook, go to Settings & Privacy > under Account, select Personal and Account Information > Account Ownership and Control > Deactivation and Deletion. In the Instagram app, tap Settings > Account > Delete Account > Deactivate Account. You can leave these accounts disabled for as long as you like and simply log back in to unlock them.

With Twitter, you can deactivate your account for 30 days by tapping Settings & privacy > Your account > Deactivate your account. But you must reactivate it within a month or your account will be permanently deleted.

On Instagram and Twitter, which are public by default for adults, you can also make your profile private. This limits what people who aren’t following you can see. On Instagram, click “Settings” > “Privacy” and turn on “Private Account”. On Twitter, go to Settings & Privacy > Privacy & Security > Audience & Tagging, then toggle the Protect your Tweets slider to On.

If you’re particularly sensitive, you can choose not to have a profile at all – although this doesn’t stop others from sharing pictures of you. You could still post photos and videos, but you won’t be tagged and you may not know about it.

What you can do

Social media platforms have different rules for posting photos of others.

Twitter is the strictest. In November, the company banned people from sharing personal pictures or videos of individuals without their consent. This includes taking a selfie with someone but not agreeing to tweet it. If someone posts it on Twitter without your permission, it falls under Private Media. You can report it by tapping the “three dots” icon in the top right corner of the tweet or by navigating to the Twitter Help Center. Repeat offenders’ accounts will be permanently deleted, Twitter said.

There is one caveat. Photographs taken of people in public places, such as during a demonstration or a sporting event, are not against the rules. Twitter says if the post is of public interest or publicly available on other “mainstream channels,” the photo may not be removed.

Facebook and Instagram prohibit the sharing of “intimate” photos, such as sexually explicit posts or other adult content. But unwanted or unflattering photos are not grounds for deletion. Facebook has a “report” link on photos and videos to report potential crimes.

Even if the photo doesn’t violate Facebook rules, you can tag yourself to remove all marks of the post from your profile. Click the three-dot menu on the image or video and choose Remove Tag. Then go to your privacy settings and adjust your “Profile and tagging” options to set them to require you to approve all future tagged photos before they appear on your timeline.

On Instagram, tap the three dots icon that appears above the post to report it. You can also adjust your tagging settings by tapping Settings > Privacy > Posts, then scrolling to Tagged Posts and under Manually approve tags, select On.

Removing tags doesn’t delete the photos, but it can limit how your contacts see them. On Facebook, the pictures are not displayed in your profile.

Sometimes it’s not such a big deal

Etiquette experts and legal scholars say the best way to avoid being tagged in unwanted group photos is to be clear about your position and where content is being posted when you’re ready. You should do this before the shutter is released. Luckily, there are ways to trade without being a buzzkill.

If you give your friends a reason why you don’t want to be in shots, they may be more likely to do so, experts said. This is before the picture is taken or when you are online and want the photo removed. Ask politely, say etiquette experts.

If you still want to attend the celebrations and get some shots, position yourself at the other end of the group photos so you can be cropped before someone posts a picture you might not like, Ms Swann said.

In recent years, some people have banned social media posts at their weddings or locked phones entirely. When you host an event, you can set the ground rules.

But sometimes you just have to let go.

“If you’re asking someone to resign, it should be for something that greatly offends or damages your reputation,” said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. “If it’s purely ego, and you just don’t like the way you smiled, you really have to think twice about it.”

Regardless of your sensitivity to shared photos, don’t forget to consider your friends’ preferences. If they ask you to delete something or not share a picture of them, respect their wishes.

“Be thoughtful,” Ms. Swann said. “It goes both ways.”

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