Pranking or prying?

Recent tussles between digital content creators and the public raise the question of where to draw the line in the case of ‘prank’ and candid videos. How much is too much? 

Published: 19th September 2023 10:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th September 2023 10:39 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

KOCHI:  Recently, I took one of my friends to Kochi’s Marine Drive. After a short stroll through the walkway, we decided to rest for a while and watch the shimmering beauty of the backwaters. Two young men approached us. One of them claimed to be a marriage broker, while the other, who looked perplexed, was purportedly the groom.

The ‘broker’, who looked too young to undertake this profession, told us that their search for a ‘perfect’ girl had been going on for some time now, and added that it was only now that the groom found someone interesting – referring to us. He gushed on how well-loaded the groom’s family was and sought to learn if one of us would be interested in accepting his hand.

“Is this a prank video?” I asked. I was glancing around to find their hidden camera. My friend soon did. A third guy was zooming in on us. After noticing him, we walked up and politely asked the group to delete the footage, making it clear that we were uncomfortable being part of such content. The trio, however, tried to cajole us into yielding. 

After several rounds of irritating back and forths, I was forced to throw in my journalist card to put an end to the drama. This got them to delete the video. With the issue now well behind us, we decided to spend some more time at the walkway before we went to our next destination. We discussed amongst ourselves why it was so hard for some people to understand that ‘no’ means no, and casually invading someone’s privacy was not okay.

While we were sitting on the parapet near the Water Metro Terminal, a camera flash appeared from not far away. As I turned to the direction it came from, I spotted a guy from the ‘prank’ trio. He was taking our picture. Again, we went up to him and demanded that he delete the picture. 

We had to yet again make it clear that we are not comfortable being part of any content. This time, he said his intention was to click a good picture of ours and give it to us. Unwillingly, he deleted the photos. He grumbled that we were “overreacting”, adding that never did anyone protest their ‘innocent’ filming. 
Therein lies the problem. Why aren’t people reacting or not finding strangers filming without one’s consent to be inappropriate? In a majority of prank videos that we stumble upon online, the public finds such content hilarious and often bursts into laughter when they realise that they were being filmed secretly the entire time.  I was left wondering: Has the world become so chill? Are we ‘progressive’ enough to take such things in a light manner? How much is too much? 

Three months ago, a YouTube Channel, which mostly airs content wherein they ask people’s opinions on various topics, got into trouble when they sought to get responses to some tricky questions with sexual connotations and others that hurt religious sentiments. The questions were fielded to school students near the Aluva Metro Station. 

However, the nature of the questions drew attention from other passersby. Some were so provoked by these insensitive questions that they lashed out at the cameraman and the woman anchor.
The case was brought before the notice of the High Court, where a clutch of YouTubers demanded the liberty to do their job, even seeking police protection.

Then, there’s another case where a group of women were pranked by a content creator. 
He had a cake in his hand and told them that it was his birthday and that he had no one to 
celebrate with. The women empathised with him and joined in the celebration. It was only later that they learned that it was a prank video. The issue was then resolved legally.

What do content creators say?

Content creator Maheen, who is popularly known as ‘Maheen Machan,’ says,  “I’ve been doing content creation for the last four years. My intention behind taking prank videos has always been to make people laugh. In this line, we must be aware that not everyone will take provocative pranks in the manner we intended.”

According to him, “content creators need to be mindful that they have the consent of people before uploading content. Whilst filming, they should have the courtesy to ask permission of those who are featured. Otherwise, it is an invasion of privacy.”

“In my case, if 10 per cent of the people are uncomfortable with the video coming out, I delete it right away,” Maheen says. There have been several instances where Maheen’s videos have had a positive impact. “After some videos went viral, the few who were featured in it messaged me to express their thanks for earning them this recognition,” he adds.

Rahul M R, who goes by the name @Kalikaran says there’s been a sea change in public perception.
“Most people now treat such videos in a light-hearted manner,” he says. According to him, it is the YouTube culture that has normalised this concept.

What does the law say?

Lawyer Jiyas Jamal, founder of Cyber Suraksha Foundation in Kochi, states that photographing someone in public is not punishable in India, as long as the persons filmed are not misinterpreted or the visual is not used for any ill motive. “There are no stringent laws or sections in which a person can be booked,” he explains.  “However, in some cases, the videos affect the modesty of a woman or paint a person in the wrong light. In these ircumstances, the accused can be booked.”  In any case, if the person is uncomfortable with the film video, the person, as per law, has the authority to demand that the photo or video be deleted. “Some people report such cases, and an FIR is filed. In most situations, the statement made by the complainant won’t be strong,” says Jiyas. “The person who filmed the video can change the story and state that they filmed after obtaining consent. There’s usually no solid proof to prove otherwise. Legal awareness is a must here. Many victims don’t have clarity.” 

Did you know?

Under Kerala  Police Act 119B, taking photographs or recording video or propagating them at any place in a manner affecting the reasonable privacy of a woman is punishable with a maximum imprisonment of 3 years or a fine of Rs 10,000.


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