[Discussion] on consent to be interacted with

In my many years organising Random Acts of Kindness and other Kindness inspiring activities around the world, this is something that comes up a lot and so i’ll share my thoughts/experience:

  • If you’re specifically filming someone, as in the video above, you need to ask their consent before posting it anywhere. Tbh it would be nice to ask first with a vague description to maintain their surprise but also have permission. It could still be done respectfully if the person filming went over right afterwards with the video to explain that they’ve been filming and will delete it there and then if the person who was filmed isn’t comfortable.

  • The purpose of these videos is to inspire others to do more kind actions (or at least it should be). Therefore the video above should have started with a disclaimer explaining that they have the persons consent to share the video, assuming they did, because most people don’t watch to the end.

  • Explain to others with you that they need to be respectful of others right to privacy If you are organising an activity which is helping someone they have a right to anonymity, especially if they are vulnerable (most times we do ‘no cameras’ when the activity involves people likely to be vulnerable.
    As an example we used to cook sandwiches and give them out weekly to people who were homeless on the streets of London. The half of the first event was awful as some of our group were taking selfies of themselves ‘helping the homeless’ for social media and it was clear at least some people we planned to help felt like a circus attraction. That was my most embarrassing moment running kindness events, and i learnt to always make sure i’d explain the situation and what was and wasn’t ok to others joining in.

  • You do have a right to film your public activities People who are passing through a video you are making in a public space who are not specifically the focus of it don’t need to give you permission. Although if they make you aware they aren’t happy that they’ve been recorded you should delete that footage or blur their faces.

  • Do you need permission for running an event in public? Well yes, but also no. Most places require permission to run an ‘event’ which usually takes far longer to get than all of the organising for the activity itself.
    You do not need permission for a ‘gathering’ though. I’ve had many, many, many police officers come over and tell me that i have to stop. All of them have backed down after a short discussion. They are looking for you to say the word ‘event’, instead i say its a ‘gathering’, an idea suggested on social media that we all decided to come along to and participate in. Tbh, the idea that we need permission to do something that makes the area we live in a little kinder is ridiculous. I don’t see police telling people they aren’t allowed to invite others to play with their football, or kids being locked up for chalking kind words on the streets. If you’re not selling tickets its not an ‘event’. Police just don’t like anything that’s different, it makes them think they should do something.

  • Its important to make it easy for people to not join in. Not everyone wants to participate in a kindness activity and it should be easy for them not to.
    Two examples come to mind, we had a group doing Free Hugs every weekend at Trafalgar Square. They became a little competitive with each other trying to collect the most hugs. I pointed out to them that the hugs were about them and not the other person anymore, and some people they interacted left feeling less happy because they’d been coerced into a hug. If you’re giving Free Hugs it should always be an offer people can choose to accept or not. Generally if someone smiles at me i might politely invite them in for a hug (or offer them a pillow if its a public pillow fight) as some people need a little encouragement to step out of their comfort zones, if not they can read my sign and will come if they want to.
    Another example is public singing where its more difficult for people to not be involved. In this situation i announce loudly what we’re going to do a while before we begin. Giving anyone who doesn’t want to be around that time to move away (giving out sheets with the song lyrics is a great way to give that space). Once you’ve begun its not an issue really as long as people have somewhere else they can be as they’ll see what you’re doing and be somewhere else.

The laws are different in each country so the above is more of a general guide. The main thing is to make an effort to respect someone’s right to privacy and try not to infringe on others rights, while exploring your own rights to create more kindness in the world around you.

Edit: I’ll add another one i just thought of which has messed up a few good videos through the years. If you are clearly filming an activity and someone who chose to participate approaches or messages afterwards to say they don’t want to be in the film, tough luck. They knew the activity was being filmed and gave consent by choosing to participate in it. Of course if its easy to blur them or drop the part of the footage they are in then that’s a nice thing to do. What i’m talking about really is if someone is asking you to take down a video you’ve worked 10 hours on then when they absolutely knew they were at an activity which was being filmed. In most countries there is an expectation of the possibility of being filmed in public places (CCTV, others personal videos nearby, or maybe someone in the crowd at a sporting event, etc), unless they themselves are the subject for the video then consent is polite but not legally required.

I believe the law on this one is different in Germany and The Netherlands, and obviously likely to be different if we’re talking about children.