By Steve Outing
A couple stories in recent days remind us that the days of privacy are over.
Example 1: The naked upside-down skier
Surely you saw the story about the unfortunate man skiing with his son at the Vail resort in Colorado. There was a problem with the chairlift seat, and he fell through; but instead of falling to the ground, one of his skis got stuck in the chair and he ended up hanging upside-down — sans his pants and underwear which had been pulled off. So the poor guy was hanging under the chair, with his son watching from above, for 7 or more embarrassing and frightening minutes while Vail staff rescued him.
Of course there were photos. This was at the bottom of the lift, and other skiers waiting in line snapped photos of the embarrassing and odd scene with cell phones and digital cameras. Some ended up on the web, and they spread like wildfire — worldwide. The photos that most people saw online were from a professional photographer — skiing on his day off — who could get fired for taking the shot.
I noticed that the websites of the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News did not run the photos (which just showed the skier’s butt, not his genitals), but both did link to sites that carried the pictures. A Vail newspaper did publish the photos. But despite the majority restraint of the traditional press, the poor guy became a joke on websites and in e-mail boxes around the world.
Vail executives no doubt didn’t want those photos published anywhere, and according to one news story I read, they rescinded the photographer’s season ski pass. But that’s absurd. Any number of skiers with cell phone cameras could have gotten the same shots — and even posted to Twitter or Flickr directly from the slopes. The resort’s best efforts at saving the naked skier’s dignity could not have prevented the images of the scene from going viral online.
Example 2: Judge tries to squelch pics of released murderer
Along similar lines, a story out of Ireland is about a judge ordering local newspapers not to publish photos of a convicted murderer who had served his term and was getting day releases to be in the community. The judge’s reasoning was that publication of what he called unbalanced articles plus the photo could result in violence against the ex-convict.
That’s not unreasonable thinking, just as is Vail wishing to protect the dignity of the skier (and make it less likely that he’ll sue their pants off). But again, the judge’s ruling only goes so far in protecting the man from reprisals. Someone else will take a photo of the man and post it on a blog, or photo-sharing site, or Twitter, and his identity will be revealed.
That’s today’s reality. Neither of the guys in those stories should have their photos posted around the web, it can be argued. But nothing will keep the photos hidden away. Human nature and the Internet won’t allow that.