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Etiquette for Posting Group Pictures on Facebook

Okay, so in all of this discussion on posting images on Facebook (and Twitter, Instagram, your blog, etc) as well as tagging, people have raised a really interesting point: what do you do with group shots?

I’m counting many situations as “group shots.”  You have the traditional group shot: 5 people all consciously posing for the camera.  You have the candid shots taken at a party.  You have the pictures that catch someone in the background.  You have the team picture at the end of baseball season.  You have the picture you took at graduation that has other people sitting around the person you are trying to capture.  What do you do with all of these pictures?

What do you do when you want to post a picture on Facebook, but you have people in the image who definitely do not want to have their picture posted?  Who have clearly asked you NOT to post the image (as opposed to random strangers that you don’t know).  Whose feelings win out?

It’s a sticky situation.  On one hand, it feels a bit akin to making a vegetarian meal: meat-eaters can consume a vegetarian meal, even if they don’t enjoy it as much, whereas vegetarians cannot consume a meat-meal.  Therefore, it makes sense — if you want to be sensitive — to make a vegetarian meal so all can eat, and some will enjoy themselves more than others.  Meat eaters can always go home and have a huge hunk of steak.

In that analogy, those who want to post can always not post and still enjoy Facebook.  They can email out the picture to friends and family, or they can look at it at home.  But they can refrain from posting that picture while still posting other pictures that feature only people who are comfortable with their image online.  Whereas those who do not want their image posted can’t have their image posted and feel comfortable.  Therefore, it would be more sensitive to not post the image, and to either come up with another way to enjoy the image or realize that not all images need to be posted.  And then move along and post something else.

This, of course, assumes that you don’t want to do things such as crop people out of the image who don’t wish to be featured (sometimes not possible).  Or you don’t want to blur the other faces because you think it makes the picture look odd (it might).  Or you don’t have the capabilities to alter the image — for instance, you just snapped the picture on your phone and you want to upload it immediately vs. download it to the computer, Photoshop the picture, and then upload it to a site.  What I mean is that there are solutions if you have the photo software that circumvent this question.  But I guess I am talking about the times when you can’t or don’t want to alter the image.


It’s easy to tell people to stop caring and just accept that our lives are going to go online, but I think that’s really poor advice.  People are allowed to have boundaries.  They’re allowed to express discomfort with certain situations and avoid those situations the best they can.  People have a right to privacy, and other people should respect their desire for privacy.  They don’t need to agree or understand or have the same boundaries, but they do need to respect the boundaries of others.  Unless they don’t mind if their own requests for privacy (or whatever matters to them) are dismissed.  Do we really want a world where we have a complete disregard for each other’s feelings?  I don’t think anyone would agree to that.  So what do we do?

It’s pretty much impossible to avoid having your picture snapped these days, so what do we do to meet the needs of those who are online-shy with the wants of those who are online-comfortable when it comes to group shots or people in the background?

Cross-posted, a bit, with BlogHer


1 Tiara { 06.19.13 at 8:09 am }

Doesn’t come down to basic respect? You don’t have to agree with their choice not to have photos online to respect it…I guess I just don’t get why there are some people who have to post EVERY photo…

2 Heather { 06.19.13 at 8:26 am }

Timely post. I want to upload a few pictures that my husband took at a school event. They are awesome ‘look how much fun we all had’ pictures. But, I don’t know 1/2 the kids in them. I’m not posting them on Facebook because I don’t know their wishes, or their parents. Still, I know that a large amount of people on my FB page would like to see these pictures. So, I go back and forth. In the end not posting them makes me at ease.

3 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 06.19.13 at 8:32 am }

Well, a lot of people live in societies where individual feelings come second place (and to be honest, I don’t like the extremes of individualism myself), but you’re right in that in those societies the process goes in all directions – it’s not like one person gets to have boundaries but everyone else doesn’t (although I’m sure the general picture posters wouldn’t mind having their pictures posted, and in many cases may have much looser boundaries in general than the non-posters).

I think if someone has explicitly requested then it’s probably best to either choose a different picture or edit the picture. It’s hard to imagine you have access to facebook but not even the most basic photo editing tools. It’s not going to kill you to wait until you get the chance. Organisers of official events who operate within individualistic cultures should be organised enough to explicitly ask by now (most I’ve come across are). I’m not sure you can account for every random stranger in the background of a personal photograph, though. Especially if you waited sixteen minutes for the background to be clear and eventually gave up.

4 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 06.19.13 at 8:39 am }

Oh and I’m sure you’ve tried having that vegetarian argument with lots of dedicated carnivores by now and you know how that goes down 😉 Ask Mr how it works out when his team at work try to eat together and the religious vegetarians get to debate with the folk who refuse to eat vegetarian.

5 N { 06.19.13 at 9:19 am }

I agree, it comes down to basic respect. I’m curious, though – is this something people run into often? I haven’t ever had somebody say they Do Not Want Their Picture Online. I’ve had people request that they not be tagged on FB, which I am totally fine with, as well as limiting my photo albums to friends-only (my default is that friends of people tagged can see them as well, but no further than that).

Not defending myself here – just finding all of this both very interesting, and also a bit curious, as I hadn’t ever encountered it.

Wait, I take that back – here at work we have families sign waivers acknowledging that their child’s picture may go online. We have one family that doesn’t, for totally reasonable reasons.

6 Gail { 06.19.13 at 9:32 am }

If the person who doesn’t want to be online is in the foreground of a photo, I wouldn’t post it. For instance, if we were at a birthday party and a group of 5 people all put their arms around each other and said “Cheese”. If one of them didn’t want to be online, I wouldn’t post it. But, if the non-online person is in the background and is not the main subject of the photo, then I will post it and I just won’t tag that person. For instance, at the same birthday party, I take a photo of the birthday boy unwrapping presents and one of the non-online people is in the background. Chances are, if the non-online person isn’t the subject of the photo, I will be cutting off part of their body/face in the photo, but I’m not going to spend time editing these photos to take out this person or not post it if the main subject (birthday boy) is really cute or the photo shows him opening our presents to him and it is the only photo showing him doing that.

I know it may sound mean, but it shouldn’t be society’s role to edit and double-check all photos that are posted online. If someone doesn’t want to be online, then it is that person’s responsibility (or a parent of that person) to make it known and then remove themselves (or child) from the photo frame during events that will be photo-worthy. For instance, at a kids’ birthday party, if your child is invited to the party and you don’t want his/her photo online, when it comes time to unwrap the presents, you need to move your child away from the action where photos are being taken.

7 Lollipop Goldstein { 06.19.13 at 9:37 am }

It does have to be a mix of responsibility for both parties — the person who doesn’t want to go online keeping themselves out of the picture and the person who wants to post being able to take photos they can use. But what about times when you can’t move away? The school play when your kid can’t move away from the kid being photographed? Or the team picture — should the kid sit out of the team picture because one parent wants to put it online?

8 Josey { 06.19.13 at 10:43 am }

Honestly, I think yes, if the parent feels that strongly against a child’s picture being posted online, then the child shouldn’t be in the team picture. It’s not unreasonable for the parents of all the other children to want to share that picture with their friends and family via FB or whatever social media platform they use.

That being said, I never tag people in pictures I put on FB – I leave that up to them. However, I also don’t explicitly ask permission of everyone in the photograph if I can post it (also, I suppose I don’t post embarassing photos / drunk photos / etc – so things are pretty PG that I’m posting anyway).

I have never been asked by a single person IRL to not post pictures of them online, so I suppose that colors my feelings on this, but IMO there reaches a point where it’s unreasonable to ask someone to not post their personal birthday pictures / sports team pictures / school play pictures / etc. because your child appears in them somewhere. It’s your responsibility as a parent to not put your child in a picture taking situation then.

9 Justine { 06.19.13 at 1:35 pm }

I don’t know why, but I tend not to post pictures on Facebook, at least, not with other people. I send them copies. And maybe they post them, but usually not … maybe it’s just me?

10 Kimberly { 06.19.13 at 1:40 pm }

I got my first taste of this this year. I’m a Brownie leader. We have each child sign a photo release but this release is for the organization to take officially assigned person taking photos that could be used in posters, news letters and ads for the organization. But we have our own rule to individual leaders in their own troops. We do not post any pictures with our girls in them. We have pictures of our girls, and our girls or their parents are free to post pictures of their children with us but we do not post pictures of our children. Ever.

Do we take pictures of our girls? Yes. I have pictures of our girls making crafts, going to events, pictures from camp. But they are for my guiding scrapbook and outside of printing them either for my scrapbook or to give to a parent who requested a copy of a photo I took, the only other purpose we will ever share them is if we text anxious parents update photos while at camp. Sometimes it sucks but its for the safety of the child. So my alternative is when I do post pictures, its of the completed crafts, the other leaders, and the surroundings without the girls in the pictures.

But outside of situations like this, I post group shots with friends or from events unless someone asks me not to. I don’t tag people unless I know they don’t mind being tagged and I limit my photo updates. I’m not a heavy Facebook user anyway but I do consider what I post before I post it. But it is a 2-way street. People need to tell you about not wanting their pictures posted and the person posting has to respect that wish.

11 Kacey { 06.19.13 at 1:50 pm }

I post pictures of my kid all over all the time and have no qualms about doing so (and he sometimes even asks me to post a certain picture so his Gramma and “aunties” -which is what he calls several of our close family friends- can see it), but I would never post a picture of anyone else without explicit permission and if I’m posting a picture of my son at a group event I either choose a picture where other people aren’t facing the camera, crop them out, or blur them. You may not be able to blur faces on a phone before posting (unless you use instagram, etc) but you can certainly crop and I think not doing so is incredibly rude.

12 Valery Valentina { 06.19.13 at 2:01 pm }

I can’t help but think of that blog of twoguysadopting. They adopted a boy whose parents threaten to find him and take him. He’s so scared that no matter how hot it is he doesn’t want to sleep with the window open. And then his parents should not allow him to join the school play /sports team because someone might want to put those pictures online and give away the location?
I’m not on Facebook or social media, and I’m not a picture person myself, so I don’t know what it is like. Just know that you never know what story is behind someone else’s child.

13 Catwoman73 { 06.19.13 at 2:56 pm }

I think it’s a matter of respect, but I don’t think that we should need to check with each and every person in a group photo to ensure that posting the pic is OK. To me- it’s common sense. Only post pics of people’s children if they say it’s OK. Don’t post pics of anyone who doesn’t have a FB account- if the person doesn’t have an account, I don’t think he or she would want his or her pics posted all over my wall. Don’t post pics that are intended to embarrass or humiliate. Never post a pic that someone has explicitly asked you not to. Aside from those few hard and fast rules, I happily post and tag away, without a second thought. I’ve never had anyone complain or ask me to remove a photo. After all- my pictures are only viewed by friends. They are not public domain. My rules for my blog are completely different, though, as that can be accessed by anyone. I must have permission to post pictures of anyone there.

14 Geochick { 06.19.13 at 3:12 pm }

I’ve only been asked to take a pic down once. And I did without question because the person directly asked for it to be removed. Granted this is even a prolific poster and tagger of her own pics, but this obe wasnt flattering. I don’t tag people in my pics and I only share with friends. I think people’s wishes in regards to what gets posted should be respected.

15 Pepper { 06.19.13 at 3:18 pm }

I am one who does not share images of my child online. When people are taking group shots, I make that clear and if it appears to be a nuisance I do everything I can to help move her out of the way so they can still enjoy their photos without compromising my rules. Before I post any pics of others, I ask them for permission. I think it is perfectly reasonable. I also model what I do post after what that person shares themselves. If they do not post any pictures of themselves on FB, I make a point of asking right away and I am not bothered if they ask me not to. If they do post a lot of pics of themselves, I do still ask but whenever I get around to it because I’m not that worried. As for the comments about not having to worry about everyone else all the time or that society isn’t responsible for policing pics on the Internet, I disagree. I think basic human decency is that you respect my wishes when possible even if you don’t agree – ESPECIALLY when it comes to my child. Because honestly, I DON’T care if you post pics of me, even the bad ones, but I DO care that you don’t share pics of her. This is a hot button with me, can you tell?

16 Amel { 06.19.13 at 4:50 pm }

I have one SIL who doesn’t want her photos online at all, so I respect that and whenever I take family pics with her in it, I never publish them – or at the very least if I take a good shot of the surrounding (for example) and I really really want to publish it, at least I make sure that only her back is shown and she’s not in the foreground and I make sure to resize the photo so that nobody knows who it is ‘coz they can’t zoom it in.

For group photos that I’m not sure whether or not the people want them shared with other people or strangers, I make specific albums in FB that I only share with those people who are in the pics (for example my coworkers) and I don’t tag them at all. If I want to make sure they get to see the album, I’ll share the album link with them via email or FB messages.

Actually, these days whenever I want to share pics in FB, I tend to just share them with my closest friends/family members, esp. when it comes to holiday pics and private pics. When it comes to sharing the weather here or nature pics, though, I’d share them with my friends. In my blogs, though, I feel “freer” to share our holiday pics (but only after we get back home).

17 Melanie { 06.19.13 at 5:56 pm }

I’ve never encountered someone directly asking me not to post their picture. If someone did, I would certainly honor that and not post anything with them in it. Even if they were just in the background and not the focus of the picture. I can’t imagine going against their wishes like that. Would it irk me to death if it was the only picture of my son blowing out his candles (or something similar) and I couldn’t post it? Absolutely. But I still wouldn’t do it. In a case like that I would probably send the pic to someone who has some editing skills and have them creatively blur the whole background or not post it at all. And if I knew there was someone that had that issue at my son’s party I would ask them to step back so I could take “post-able” photos. Or angle the shots differently so they weren’t in them. If they told me after the fact and had been standing right next to him while people were taking pictures I would find them to be a real jerk and honestly probably wouldn’t want to invite them to events anymore. There does have to be a little bit of mutual respect for those of us who do want a cute picture to put online. What may not be important to you, might be really important to me. And vice versa. But I still wouldn’t post it if I knew that was against their wishes.

The only situation I’ve encountered like this is that my son’s preschool has a policy that you are not to post pics of other people’s kids online. I don’t know that any of the parents in his class feel that way, I doubt it. but I honor that and don’t post any pictures from my son’s school unless he’s the only one in them. I do have an adorable pic of him and a few classmates on his first day of preschool that I would have loved to share, but didn’t of course. Instead I printed it and used it in scrapbooks given to family members.

Now when it comes to shots with people in the background that I don’t know and don’t know their wishes, I do post those. Being that most of the world shares pics of themselves online, (again, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t) I would assume that if you don’t want images of yourself online and you see people taking pics, you would either step out of the frame or advise them of your wishes.

18 It Is What It Is { 06.19.13 at 11:31 pm }

It was the not posting to Facebook of any picture of my nephew from Christmas 2011, being called on ‘purposefully leaving him out’ and then posting the most flattering one I had in order to make it ‘right’ and then being called out for posting such a ‘heinous’ picture of him that led to my estrangement from my parents.

It’s not quite the same as posting a picture of someone who’s expressly asked that I not, but it does exemplify the ramifications of posting (or not) pictures of others.

19 Gail { 06.20.13 at 4:55 pm }

This discussion of “to post or not to post” and whether to take a kid out of a team picture so that other parents can post the photo reminds me of the rule to no longer allow peanut butter in a school because one child has an allergy*. I am all about accommodation and making sure that people have their needs met, but completely eliminating PB from a school because of one kids’ allergy is similar to completely taking away someone’s right to post a group photo because one person in the photo doesn’t want to be online. Maybe you take the PB allergic kid and put him/her in a separate room at meal/snack times and maybe you take the anti-online kid and put them in a non-camera zone during photo time. But, eventually, there will just be too many rules and all the fun is gone.

*By the way, I realize that the PB allergy is a matter of life and death and that having a photo posted online is usually not. However, it was the best example I could come up with to show how ridiculous it is in group situations.

20 Samantha { 12.19.13 at 11:03 am }

I have a friend of almost 50 years, and we both have a considerable number of mutual online friends (100+) due to our long history. Recently she insisted on taking pictures at a cooking get-together even though I protested because I wasn’t feeling or dressed well and was having a bad day. In one picture I had an apron which had slid off one shoulder, my expression looked crazed, and I was holding a drinking glass (hence, looked like I was inebriated). She said she only wanted the pictures for herself so I indulged her in a few pictures. Imagine my surprise when she not only posted very unflattering pictures of myself, but also photo-shopped herself (and only herself) to take 10 years and 20 pounds off. My mother called and asked if I’d gained weight. My husband asked if I was hammered. I was ashamed that over 100 mutual friends could see the pictures. I asked her to remove the pictures, and she wrote a scathing letter back, saying she didn’t tag me and I was being ridiculous. However she did take them off. I haven’t spoken to her since, and after almost 50 years I have decided to end our friendship quietly. What hurt the most was the realization that she could disregard my feelings, go back on her word, and then defend her actions by belittling me. Just because there isn’t a “tag” does not mean that someone has the right to put another’s image online.

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