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Berginski: Photographer Ban Sets Serious Precedent

By Staff | Jul 23, 2015

Social media is great when you’re trying to reconnect with someone you haven’t seen in years. But there are times when it does terrible things to other people.

That was the case recently in Fargo, where a guy by the name of Kirk Ludwig became the target of an Internet lynch mob.

Last week, Ludwig had been taking pictures at the Island Park pool, apparently he was trying to get a picture of someone diving. He was then confronted by another Fargo resident, Jed Felix, who then posted to Facebook that Ludwig was taking pictures of women and children (despite Ludwig saying children weren’t present) in their bathing suits. The post received thousands of shares (although it has been deleted ever since), and after that Ludwig was banned from the city’s pools for 90 days, despite a police investigation finding nothing criminal about the photos he took. (In fact, the only thing police found on him that was criminal was half an ounce of marijuana and paraphernalia.) Essentially, the ban was created due to a public outcry simply because he “looked creepy”.

Felix may have felt that Ludwig was acting inappropriately and that he was posting to Facebook to warn the public. Okay, granted, although threatening to smash Ludwig’s camera was going a little overboard. In hindsight, Ludwig could have also let the Fargo Park District or the managers of the city’s pools know that he was going to be taking pictures at such-and-such time on such-and-such day. And the Park District also has the right to ban someone if it feels he or she is a danger to children or the safety of parkgoers.

But simply looking “creepy” isn’t grounds for a ban from a public place. (If that were the case, a lot of people would be banned from several places right now, including yours truly.) And Facebook users who saw the post and took to the comments sections assumed the worst, called Ludwig names, suggested he’s a pedophile or some sort of sexual deviant, and even threatened violence and death. Even a Clay County, Minn., officer was put under investigation for posting that someone should “stomp” Ludwig’s “guts out”. Even if the posters weren’t literally going to harm or kill Ludwig, or if they meant their posts as a joke, there’s no context on social media. Anything a person posts can be taken literally. Ludwig has done so to the point where he changed his appearance and feared for his livelihood as well.

A case like this also sets serious precedents. A newspaper photographer could potentially face a social media firestorm set off by a concerned citizen for simply “looking suspicious”, even though he or she is only doing his job. Heaven forbid a parent taking a picture of his or her own kid in the pool gets someone else’s kid in the shot, unless he or she wants to risk being called a sexual predator if he or she looks “creepy” enough. In this day and age, it’s not like everyone wears their credentials on their sleeves or has to be in some preconceived look.

These are some serious times we’re living in, when what one person posts on social media can potentially destroy another’s life.

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