Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Finger

Kem "The Finger" Kimbrough
A few weeks ago, a story broke about a photo of the Clayton County, Georgia Sherriff Kem Kimbrough. The image in question was of the elected lawman flipping the bird and appeared on his personal Facebook page. An upset citizen alerted a CBS news affiliate in Atlanta of the picture’s existence and reporter Wendy Saltzman sent Sherriff Kimbrough a Facebook friend request in order to gain access to the image and confirm its existence.

To her surprise, Kimbrough accepted her request and she was able to confirm the picture’s authenticity. This led to a news story about the picture, which angered the sheriff who immediately filed a complaint against Saltzman for Facebook-friending him under “false pretenses.” The sheriff’s complaint and subsequent disparaging remarks about the station and its reporter soon resulted in another, more widely distributed, news story detailing the sheriff’s reaction to the initial news story. Ironically, Kimbrough’s actions have led to wider circulation of the photo he apparently wished to keep private.

Reporter Wendy Saltzman
Personally, I have never been able to understand the allure of giving the finger in a photo. Do these individuals have a strong dislike of photography? Are they confused about when to properly implement such a gesture? I know several people whose Facebook albums look like the liner notes from a late 90’s Kid Rock CD and I have been unable to ascertain the thought process behind such a theme.

Operating under the assumption that most practitioners have become confused as to the gesture’s proper use I have created a few examples:

  • A man wearing an Alf costume cuts you off on the Interstate while attempting ignite his homemade pipe bomb = OK
  • Your mom asks to snap a picture of you with your daughter at her Kindergarten graduation = Not OK
  •  A group of wayward youth strike you with a cantaloupe while you are waiting for the guy in front of you to finalize his selection from the Redbox machine = OK
  •  A picture of you is to be featured in the brochure of a prominent children’s hospital = Not OK
  • You are at the gym and a complete stranger approaches you and asks if you are a body-weight Scientologist because you “look like a Level 6 Fattie.” = OK
  • You and your fiancĂ© are sitting for your engagement portraits = Not OK

Most would probably insist that flipping the bird is an outward sign of their passion for nonconformity. By selectively displaying a particular digit they are proclaiming to the world, “I may be unable to completely avoid photographic documentation of my existence, but I will not allow my rugged individualism to be muted by societal norms or corporate interests.” More often than not, such remarks would be authored on said individual’s contractually-controlled Apple iPhone and published on their Facebook page for good measure.

As for Sherriff Kimbrough, a good rule of thumb is to avoid uploading any photos to the Internet that you wish to keep private. I am also unsure how one goes about friending someone under false pretenses since as far as I know users of Facebook are not currently asked to detail their intentions prior to sending a request. If such a questionnaire did precede a friend request you would likely have four options:

I am sending you a friend request because….
1.       We are actually friends in real life and our online connection is simply an extension of a deeper platonic admiration and respect for one another.
2.      We have a personal connection, however tenuous, and although it is unlikely we would purposefully spend time together in the real world, the effort required to click your profile directly corresponds to the amount of interest I have in your life.
3.      We have never actually spoken to each other but I am currently sitting at 399 friends and we have enough mutual friends that I think this request will put me over the top without you asking too many questions.
4.      I thought that you were hot and wanted to keep my options open in case your marriage/serious relationship crumbles unexpectedly  and access to your “friends only” beach vacation photos is just a bonus.
 The bottom line is that either Kem accepted her friend request because he mistakenly thought that a random attractive woman found his profile picture irresistible and wished to initiate communication or he knew she was an investigative reporter and convinced himself that her interest in the actions of an elected official must be of a personal nature.

If the guy wants to take a photo of himself flipping off a busload of nuns in front a preschool and use that as his Facebook profile pic that is his business. I doubt that it would look good on his next campaign poster but it is not illegal. By the same token if someone sends you a friend request and you accept it later exposing yourself to ridicule over the pictures you give them access to, stop crying and move on.  

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