Stranger Days #25: Don't Post Your Senior Photo...Just Don't!

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Welcome to stranger days--my blog series exploring daily life, challenges in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and just sharing insights or thoughts about how to make it through these days.  

I intended this post to be about the Easter Bunny--no really--but it will have to wait until tomorrow.  Instead, I awoke and accessed the internet and immediately had "THOUGHTS" that needed expressing.  

For a couple days now, I've noticed my feed fill up with a series of mentioning or posting of senior photos from high school by folks like me who have spent more of their life out of high school than in.  

A facebook post by Lance that says "#SeniorPhoto...hey folks, on the hand, I get that you're trying connect with seniors in high school who will not be having the same rituals as many people experienced (of course, those doesn't include the seniors who weren't in traditional school or couldn't afford senior photos), BUT you do realize this is another opportunity for Facebook and other programs to optimize facial recognition software and further invade your privacy & others who would prefer their privacy not invaded...just a thought...."

The commentary accompanied by it is usually something along the lines of "show your support for seniors by posting your senior photo". On one level, it's a kind gesture of solidarity but scratch the surface a little bit and it largely falls apart . 

So here are my thoughts about it:

1.  It's unclear how posting the photos is solidarity in that many students won't seem to be able to share/sign and interact with yearbooks the same way they have in the past.  So sharing something that you have and a rite you got to participate in seems more like face-rubbing than supporting seniors.  

2. It also feels a bit like showing off one's privilege or status. Showing a senior photo tells the world that you went to a traditional high school where this was a practice and that you could financially participate it in (the photos and the yearbook) and still hold onto the evidence decades later.  What about the seniors seeing this play out that can't participate in it for various reasons? I agree that it's important to show support to younger folks who may be missing out on things but many teens are missing out on many things right now and I wonder if this is the best demonstration of support.  

3. Remember "The FaceSmash". Facebook was originally created as a superficial judgment game by Zuckerberg to have people play and elite version of "Hot or Not." The shining off of senior pictures is another means to creating pageantry up for the consumption and judgment of others.

4. Yet my biggest concern here is how this is all feeding artificial intelligence facial recognition programs by Facebook and other services.  After all, for most users of Facebook, they do not have go clear photos of them from when they were in high school but will likely have good clear photos taken of them as they are today.  So, if you want to feed facial recognition software with lots of useful data, you provide data that can clearly identify two points in time (17'ish) with recent photos and cross-referenced with a birthday so that the AI can start to figure out how aging may impact people's appearance. 

Now, again, people often say "so what"? But what I keep seeing in terms of the concerns around these are a few.

This technology can be used in ways that challenging our sense of privacy and also, what we're able to do and see.  The facial recognition can be used, of course, to track people in a variety of settings and can be employed by law enforcement.  Now, maybe that's not of concern for some but we know that it has lots of problems and has the potential to undermine human rights and democratic values.  

There are other aspects of this that are challenging even for those who are fine with the ways it inhibits our rights.  Increasingly companies accrue data about us and use that data to determine a variety of decisions and create or limit opportunities for us. They can determine what job ads, airline tickets, or rental properties show up when we search.  In the physical environment, especially with facial recognition software, they can have further implications.  For instance, as we enter stores, such facial recognition might be used to indicate that we deserve more attention since the data we have indicates that we are more likely to spend. That seems harmful but it also means that those who don't trigger that response get less service. 

I agree that maybe that wasn't the intention of whoever may have started the senior photo practice but it is likely to still have the same effect.  And that's where I also tie this discussion to the larger issues around the Covid-19.  There is a lot of discussion of using tracking through our smartphones in order to keep track of who is and isn't contaminated. Like the senior photo posts, this seems like a smart idea that's worth considering. But it's hard to believe that such an action would not be leveraged or used for some other purpose that's not what we would want it to be used for.  

In this way, this reminds me of the challenge of the virus. We contract the data often when doing something good (interacting with other human beings--many of whom we know and love).  But the virus (like our data) lingers for a long time and therefore, creates lots of chances for to infect others(or data abuse) continues to grow exponentially as more and more people are infected.  It's not a perfect analogy but I hope that it makes a bit of sense of why I and others are concerned about it.  

Take care. Be careful. Be care-filled.  Welcome to stranger days.

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