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There's this teacher who takes pictures of his students during exams, and posts them on social media, with the knowledge of the students. A lot of people enjoy these pictures (including the students), but I'm not sure how I should feel about this.

This also includes editing pictures to make them into memes of some kind. There is no foul play involved, just for fun.

Is this behavior alright? Should it be tolerated?

Addition :

The students were not asked for their consent. There have been no verbal objections, so far.

  • 41
    Absence of objection is not consent or permission. Also I don't understand why this is taken during exams. Certainly unprofessional of the teacher either way. You must voice out your objection or at least bring it up anonymously with the school board (drop a letter in an attended complaint box). – ADTC Nov 18 '14 at 16:28
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    I can understand taking pictures of students during an exam, as a deterrent to cheating. But if the teacher worked at my (US) university, posting those pictures anywhere without explicit written permission of every student would probably cost them their job, even if they had tenure. – JeffE Nov 18 '14 at 18:11
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    As others mentioned, the country and its legal framework are part of the picture (beside the ethical aspects). For instance In France that would not be legal in the first place. – WoJ Nov 19 '14 at 17:56
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    In Germany, photos that show more than 12 people (iirc, something of this magnitude anyway) are not protected by personal/privacy rights. Hence, a photo that shows a room full of students busy with their exams is fair game. Whether posting it online is good style is another matter. – Raphael Nov 20 '14 at 17:36
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    Jill used to be married to an abusive man who stalked her after their divorce. She got a restraining order, but that was not enough. She had to move away, to another state, and decided to go back to college as part of her fresh start. Her abusive ex has no clue where she is... until one day he is scanning around social media and there she is, a friend of a friend and the friend like a meme that has her up-front and center. Now he knows where she is, the university she attends, and at least one place and times where he can find her... This is exactly why FERPA exists. This is illegal. – AgapwIesu Feb 6 '17 at 22:37
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Doing this without permission is unprofessional, and it may be illegal, depending on your jurisdiction.

Asking for students' permission first is still unprofessional, especially in an exam situation, where students are already nervous, and given the power imbalance between the professor and the students. Who among the students will dare to object right before the exam? (This could depend on your local culture.)

You write that "There is no foul play involved, just for fun." - What is fun for one student could very well be harrassment for another, especially if pictures are edited. I don't see how this furthers the academic enterprise, so I would avoid doing this, at the risk of coming across as a spoilsport.

I surmise this question could soon be closed as opinion-based.

  • 31
    This is definitely illegal in some US jurisdictions, and could also be dangerous to students who need their identity protected under FERPA (e.g., due to a persistent stalker). – jakebeal Nov 18 '14 at 13:12
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    @WernerCD In the US and many other places, there is a general shift in ethical frameworks from "negative consent" models where it is the responsibility of a person who is uncomfortable to object (which may be problematic for any number of good reasons) to "positive consent" models where it is the responsibility of the active party to obtain approval from all involved (which is less efficient, but generally safer). – jakebeal Nov 18 '14 at 14:33
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    @jakebeal they also might be in the witness protection program. Now the Gambino family knows where they are, thanks teacher! – coburne Nov 18 '14 at 15:06
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    Pretty sure this should be taken as a form of bullying both online and offline. If a student were to due the same thing would the college tolerate it? I doubt it. – Paraplastic2 Nov 18 '14 at 15:41
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    I don't know about the US, but in Germany, this is quite clearly illegal. You need a signed model release to post other people's pictures on a public site, regardless of the academical setting. There are exceptions for when people are not integral to the picture and not easy to recognize (e.g. you are photographing the Kölner Dom and there are people walking in front of it), but this is clearly not the case here. – rumtscho Nov 18 '14 at 17:15
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Is this behavior alright? Should it be tolerated?

Well, it certainly does not seem very professional to me, and I would neither do it nor suggest it to any other lecturer. That being said, I can certainly imagine small, informal master-level classes, where doing this may be perceived as a fun gimmick and not as outrageous.

Whether you should tolerate it probably depends on whether you are personally offended, and to what degree. If you personally don't care (and don't know somebody else who clearly cares), I do not see a reason to make a big preemptive fuss. If you would really rather not have your picture taken, or you expect the shy guy at the back to be really bothered by that, then you can (and should) talk to the lecturer in private and explain the situation to her/him.

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    +1 for the straightforward "I would rather you not do that" approach. – Matthew Leingang Nov 18 '14 at 17:02
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I would bet that this is surely a FERPA violation in the U. S.

This is not based on my detailed knowledge of the law, but only my past experiences (and vague recollections from the FERPA quiz my university has everyone take).

Here's an example of how strict these laws can be: once I got an email from the parent of an autistic student in my course. The parent wanted to know how the student was doing in class so the parent could help her child stay on top of things. On a hunch, I contacted the disability services office to see if I could speak with the parent about the student in this case. I was told that it would be a violation of FERPA to even confirm with the parent that this student was enrolled in my course!

Since posting a photo of someone taking an exam is certainly evidence that they are taking a particular course, it is very likely posting the photo is not okay.

  • Quite true, posting the photos would be equivalent to publickly posting an class enrollment list. Not at all allowed by FERPA, so illegal regardless of state laws. – AgapwIesu Feb 6 '17 at 22:22
4

Rather than assuming consent, or requesting it on a short timeframe right as the exam starts, the professor should get consent this way:

In the first or second lecture, show a series of pictures from previous years, including the memed ones. Further, explain where these go (public blog or twitter? private facebook page for students in this class this year? The physical wall outside the profs office?) Then say "if you're cool with being the subject of one of these pictures, please [email me and say so, or put your name on this list at the front, or go to this web page and enter your student id, or something relatively unspoofable.]

The onus is now on the prof to ensure that pictures are taken and cropped so that they only include students known to have agreed to this. (Don't recognize third-from-the-left? Can't remember if that's Ashleigh or Ashley? Not a usable picture.)

At most one reminder later in the term for new arrivals would be ok. Other than that, there shouldn't be any haranguing like "7 people still haven't filled out the ok-to-make-a-meme-of-me form, please try to get that done today."

Approaching this any other way at best risks leaving some students unhappy and feeling mocked; depending on where you live it could have worse outcomes including legal and financial liabilities. There is no upside to assuming consent and saying it's all for fun. The prof and students are spending 4 or 8 months together, there is plenty of time to collect non pressured optional true consent if this really is so much fun.

In addition, a role model showing people that "hey, this is fun, don't be a spoilsport, just go along" is no longer the way universities operate will be doing a larger public service for those who will hear the same words around alcohol, drugs, vandalism, coerced sex, and the like. Just because something will be fun for some of the people participating in it, that doesn't mean everyone should participate regardless of their feelings or preferences. Demonstrating that with something relatively minor like pictures of funny faces during exams is probably a really good life lesson. True consent matters.

  • 2
    I dislike this answer. It is a waste of valuable class time with little or no obvious educational benefit to show for it. And regardless of when the consent is requested, the power differential between professor and student is still a factor. – AgapwIesu Feb 6 '17 at 22:26
  • I don't entirely disagree - I certainly wouldn't take or post these pictures myself. But this prof has some motivation for doing so. Given that, it is better to get consent in a minimally invasive (1 or 2 minutes) way than to keep doing it without consent as appears to be the current practice. – Kate Gregory Feb 7 '17 at 18:00
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I got a picture of me taken during the entrance exam for my undergrad. The photographer tried to capture the environment where 1000+ candidates sit in this huge hall and compete for a place at the institution. The photo shows a portion of the seats, but as the photographer stood right in front of me, I happened to be in the first plan. This photo was posted on the institution's official web site. It is quite dear to me as it captures a moment which you wouldn't expect to be documented in such a way and I see nothing wrong with it. The same reasoning might apply to your professor. Of course, editing the picture might be another story, especially if it is done with malicious intent. As I see it, you or any other student could approach the professor afterwards and ask them to remove or not disclose the pictures taken. This is a viable option even if those pictures were posted on social media.

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    Depending on the jurisdiction, pictures of single persons (or pictures that highlight single persons) can be an entirely different matter from pictures of large amounts of people (even if single persons happen to be in the foreground in such a picture). – O. R. Mapper Nov 18 '14 at 14:05
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    Interesting anecdote but I don't think it's much of an answer to the question. – R.. Nov 19 '14 at 16:36
  • This is not OK as they seem to be doing it for "fun". Also to the last comment - if you are prominently visible in the image for the institution then they should have sought permission. There are all sorts of reasons why you might not want to be seen sitting this entrance exam. – user24502 Nov 19 '14 at 20:38

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