Veasey Conway
Dec 23, 2016 · 2 min read

Blurring faces in works of visual journalism is incredibly rare — and for good reason. I’m concerned that featuring this suggestion so prominently and including easy tools to blur faces could lead to over-censorsing and a flouting of accepted visual journalism ethics.

  • Firstly, blurring faces is no guarantee of anonymity. Oftentimes protest attendees show up in multiple visual channels (ie: video surveillance, police cameras, social media, journalism), so blurring an attendee’s face in one instance is far from secure. (This includes the possibility that blurring a subject’s face will give them a false sense of security.)
  • Protests are almost by definition public events. And most protest attendees make conscious decisions to attend. So granting a subject anonymity at a protest seems like a non-sequitur. I’d argue that granting of visual anonymity at a protest, then, should be more “strict” than many other situations journalists commonly find themselves in.
  • Like anonymous sourcing in written works of journalism, the act of blurring faces should carry a “barrier” with a series of “requirements” that must be negotiated before a journalist can use the technique. My fear is that by including these blurring tools without many caveats, you’re rhetorically and ethically putting up less of a “barrier” and more of a “floodgate.”
  • The situations where a subject 1) needs to be on camera but 2) deserves to be retroactively anonymized will likely always be incredibly rare. There are almost always other subjects going through similar situations. Find them and get them on camera instead.
  • There are countless examples of journalists working under harder conditions and coming back with clean (read: non-doctored) images — crazier protests, more dangerous war zones, more oppressive governments. They found subjects that were OK with having their likenesses featured. Hopefully we all think about those more difficult reporting situations before we choose to retroactively alter our images.

    Veasey Conway

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    Photographer from Cambridge, Mass.