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If You Want Privacy, Congregate in Private

College kids are dumb, as the saying goes, but with YouTube we can now see just how dumb they are. If you’re standing in the middle of a public square, clamoring for attention, you’re not allowed to get pissed when that attention arrives.


A campus quad at the University of Missouri is a public place, which means I’m allowed to stand there and you’re allowed to stand there. You can’t start setting things on fire but you’re given a pretty long leash as far as what’s allowed. This means you can demonstrate against your university’s policies. It also means that a reporter can come in and take a photo of your demonstration, and try to ask you questions. If you don’t want to answer the questions, that’s OK too. This isn’t really a First Amendment issue, it’s a We’re All Allowed to Stand Here issue. The photographer above is allowed to take photos of the people yelling at him. The people yelling at him are allowed to yell. If they were in, say, the middle of a restaurant, they’d get kicked out, because that’s not a public space. Similarly, you can’t stand around in my apartment, I’ll ask you to leave.


It seems like these students and professors think it’s also immoral in some sense, a violation of space, a transgression against the sanctity of standing around that this photographer is trying to photograph them for his job. That’s fine, but not a legal argument. You can yell it at him just as you can try to cast a spell on him—they have equal legal validity.

My advice to these kids and anyone else who wants privacy is to go somewhere where you have a legal expectation of privacy. There are lots of private places: your dorm room, someone’s apartment, somewhere behind closed doors. Standing out in the middle of a large grassy expanse is the worst place you want to be left alone. “Safe space” is not a real thing. “Public space” is.


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