Wellness Wednesday: What Does Consent Look Like on Zoom?

Consent is essential. It always has been and always will be. In the digital age, consent is arguably more important than it ever has been. Digital consent and digital privacy go hand in hand. Sharing media is even easier now than it was pre-smartphones and the internet. With the click of a button, our data is essentially immortalized on the internet forever. Internet privacy is a cause that many are passionate about, and understandably so. The law is always evolving and digital privacy is a new frontier. Everyone has their own level of understanding of how the internet works, and also possess their own reasonable expectation of privacy on the internet, so it’s important to be mindful and respectful of that wherever and whenever possible. With so many things going digital these days we are seeing that the only option for collaboration may be to host an online event, meeting, appointment, etc, instead of an in-person get-together. The stakes are raised even higher when encounters like confidential appointments are held over digital conferencing platforms such as Skype or Zoom. So how do we respect another person’s privacy? Well, there are many ways and consent is a big part of that process!

It’s always best, and ensures that all attendees are on the same page, to ask for consent before recording a meeting or an online encounter. In the event that the encounter must be recorded then you should send out an initial disclaimer to the attendees before the event making them aware of your plans to record just as you would do if you were in-person. For example, let’s understand that some people may be okay with a photographer or videographer documenting an in-person gathering with various faces showing while others may not. Luckily, in-person there is an ability to speak up and also the ability to leave if you are feeling uncomfortable. For the most part, this is true in the digital space as well. In an online encounter, starting with an initial disclaimer that the event will be recorded reduces the chance of any confusion later on. Better yet, ask for consent before recording, especially if the meeting or event is one that does not necessarily need to be recorded in the first place. By sending out an initial disclaimer this gives the option for prospective attendees to skip the live event entirely and possibly have the opportunity to access the recorded event later on! By asking for consent to record at the beginning of the event you are also bringing it to the attention of the attendees one more time and giving them the opportunity to share any apprehensions, hide their video, mute their microphone, or opt-out altogether and leave the event. 

Once the digital event is underway there are still other ways to stay mindful and be respectful of others’ expectations of privacy. If one would prefer to leave their webcam off, we need to realize that they may be in an environment that they do not feel comfortable sharing with others. It could be as simple as a dirty bedroom, or maybe they’re on a busy bus or train. Just because they choose not to show their face does not mean they aren’t paying attention. The same applies to a microphone – it’s possible that there are loud machines nearby or noise that would detract from the event or meeting if heard by the rest of the attendees, so they chose to mute it. By not having an in-person event, and making it digital, you are giving individuals the opportunity to attend that otherwise may not have had the ability to attend.  

As with anything, there will be those that abuse their privilege of privacy and autonomy. There may also be situations where attendees will be required to keep their microphones and webcams on, for instance when taking a standardized test. In most cases, the average online event is not a confidential one and the thoughts and recommendations mentioned above apply to the average low-to-medium-stakes digital encounter and these rules are not absolute. On the flip side, facilitators appreciate and enjoy seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the attendees too. It makes it easier to engage with the audience and it makes it feel less like talking to a wall or an empty room. So keep that in mind as well! When in doubt, aim to treat everyone with the respect they deserve and be mindful that the current situation is not a typical one and many of us are learning as we go. Remember to take care of yourself, take care of others, and take care, DePaul!