Think Before You Snap: Ethical Volunteering

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It can be tempting to boost popularity and gain likes on your social media profile by sharing photos of your travelling adventures. It’s exciting to post about the unique people and places you encounter, but selfie-takers should be aware that when travelling it is important to really think about what you are posting and why. 

Photos or posts in the developing world without an explanation or context can perpetuate certain stereotypes. Many tourists and travellers often don’t think about what they are actually taking pictures of or what that might mean to the people in the photo - your subject. 

Portraying impoverished people as pitiful, passive or helpless to control their own fate is one such stereotype that creates harmful and uninformed opinions of what life is like outside of the developed world. It perpetuates the idea that people in these countries are in need of rescue or saviour from the western world. Furthermore, travellers often get caught up in the excitement of a foreign country and don’t realize that the photos they post may be considered disrespectful or offensive to the subject or people living there. 

While it isn’t wrong to want to take pictures, it is important to consider the subjects of your photo. Make sure that they are aware of what you are doing with the photo and give their permission. Be respectful and try to include context (such as that individual’s first name or a short blurb about them) while being aware of their privacy and personal wishes. Consider how it would make you feel if you were in that photo, and especially think about whether or not you would take that photo if you were in the same situation back home. 

Radi-Aid is an organization which has recently launched a campaign targeting harmful selfies and produced a short video here that provides a clever satirical take on selfies in the developing world. Their website offers further information on how to avoid exploitation when travelling in the developing world.