The worrying increase in recording strangers for entertainment

Latavya Chintada, Staff Writer


If you—like millions of people around the world—are on TikTok, you might have seen countless videos recording random strangers in public. With no apparent connection to the people they are filming, the creators of these videos might appreciate the strangers they are filming or poke fun at them, all without consent. These videos will then go viral, making their way through Instagram Reels, Snapchat Spotlights and, of course, the dreaded Twitter feed. 

Recently, I came across a video on my TikTok For You page (FYP) of a stranger holding his head in his hands on a park bench, obviously having a bad day. The creator of the video seemed to have taken this from afar, zoomed into this man and captioned it with “when your girlfriend breaks up with you.” To make matters worse, the comments were all proposing their own ideas on why this man was having a bad day, ranging from lighthearted jokes about how this is them when Chipotle runs out of chicken to more distasteful comments probing at the man’s personality. It struck me as absurd, seeing as none of these people even knew the man or what he was going through. What if this man was mourning the loss of a loved one? Or what if he was recently fired from a job that supported his entire family? Obviously, these are very extreme scenarios—however, regardless of what he was distraught about, seeing people make wild assumptions about his life did not sit right with me.

From videos of strangers having emotional moments (like this man in the aforementioned video), to a couple having a fight to an elderly man wearing an eccentric outfit, to even a teenager trying to dance and have fun, there is an endless supply of strangers being recorded in public. This all enforces a way of thinking where everyone needs to conform to a social standard, otherwise you too will be recorded and made fun of online.

One prime example of this that we all may know of is “Couch Guy.” For those of you who don’t know who Couch Guy is, here’s the backstory. The TikTok video records a long distance girlfriend going to her boyfriend’s apartment to surprise him, and she’s met with a lackluster response from him as he remains on a couch. The internet went crazy over this, with thousands of videos mocking him and their relationship, telling her to leave him, attacking his character and making other presumptions about their relationship. While there may be some truth to some of these assumptions, realistically, we still don’t know their relationship based on a 30 second video. I think presumptions like these are harmful, as it often perpetuates a false stereotype of a random stranger while making this man’s image be ubiquitous across the internet. Not to mention, he will be forever known as a “bad boyfriend” because of this video. However, last time I checked, their relationship still seems to be going strong despite public backlash so props to them.

While we don’t have the absolute right to privacy especially in a public setting, why can’t we at least get the basic dignity we deserve? It seems that filming strangers in public has become a sort of cash grab or even a way to get clout by poking fun at others. Huge social media accounts such as those prank YouTubers or social experiment TikTokers are a popular form of entertainment, but ultimately they are monetizing the mockery of strangers. These people also do not give permission to be filmed beforehand (I suppose to not undermine the authenticity of the prank), but find themselves viral on the internet with people commenting on their behavior, looks or all of the above. It can be troubling and anxiety-inducing.

There are times that recording can be beneficial, especially when recording abuses of power, harassment or crimes. For example, recording police brutality or harassment from an authority figure can be in the public’s interest. This is how large social movements come to fruition, and there is no denying the benefits. However, when it comes down to recording normal people doing normal things, there is a fine line between good-hearted teasing to public harassment.

This again comes down to the social conformity point—if someone is doing something that we find odd, the first response has become to record them, put it online and have thousands judge their behavior.

Social media has made us so far removed from empathy that we forget that these are real people with real feelings and real lives that we do not know of. We also need to remember that everyone has a different perspective and reaction to things, and people handle surprise, happiness and sadness differently. What you might do when you are happy might not be the same as someone else, so it’s not right to subject someone else to the same emotional guidelines (such as Couch Guy) to determine if they are reacting the same way or not.

Ultimately, this culture around social media needs to change. We need to start giving people room to make mistakes, and we should give them grace when viewing public embarrassments. That’s what you would want for yourself, right? Basically, we need to mind our own business more.