Recently, I observed three passengers enjoying a bottle of beer at a kiosk at Brisbane Airport. Shortly, they headed for their departure gate, leaving behind three empty bottles. A pilot occupied the table they vacated. Engrossed with an app on his mobile phone, he seemed oblivious to the beer bottles.
From my vantage point - and if one had not observed the passengers who earlier occupied the table - an observer might wrongly or meanly conclude that the empties were the pilot's. Imagine if the observer, for prank or intending malice, took a photo and Tweeted or otherwise socialized the "bottle and throttle" offense.
A photo of this kind often trends or goes viral. The pilot and carrier are then unfairly subjected to criticism and scrutiny. While eye witnesses and video would exonerate the pilot in this case, some residual harm will persist: at the very least only some of those who saw the photo or social media post will learn of the pilot's exoneration and some of these may choose another carrier when they next book a flight.
I mentioned this to a colleague and he said, "there's nothing the pilot could do about this".
We now spend a great deal of time in a socially voyeuristic society. Friends, follower, mail list lurkers, and others trend, track or surveil throughout our day. We share with or observe others more obsessively perhaps than at any time in human history. Some of this is by choice and online safety groups such as Stop.Think.Connect. publish helpful guidelines to help us make informed choices about sharing. Some occurs without our notice or consent; here, Privacy by Design and others explain the implications or consequences of third party data collector behavior.
Social voyeurism creates a situational risk that is less often discussed; namely, that our observable actions or speech may cause us, our families, or employers harm, or cause authorities to look upon us with suspicion.
Situational risk is not new, and we many of us adopt defensive behaviors to place ourselves less at risk of purse or wallet snatching, car jacking, inappropriate contact or violent attacks. To reduce risks arising from social voyerism, we should pay no less attention to how our publicly observed behavior might affect us, our communities of interest, or our employer; for example:
- Hold your temper. Choose to silently stew rather than express road rage, fan outrage, or gesture rudely in public.
- Mind your location. Observe what's going on around you and whether your surroundings or the actions of people around you put you at situational risk.
- Consider who's watching (you). Take a moment to note potential social voyeurs and whether you're in their frame and range.
- Consider what data collectors can deduce. Being caught on TV at a ball game when you've called in sick at work is a tired sitcom meme but social voyeurs may make you more accountable to be you where you claim to be.
While we all may not be as strictly regulated as airline pilots, we do have some risk of embarrassment or inconvenience should a social voyeur record our activity and publish it with incorrect or meanly intended context. Be situationally aware!