Fifty shades of voyeurism: Surveillance and social media


Voyeur by Steve Jurvetson (CC by 2.0)

  • Do you want to read the grim details of the recent death of Nick Cave’s son Jethro Lazenby; or
  • watch footage of Bella Hadid’s fall down stairs at a New York restaurant? TMZ (Bella Hadid models how to fall 2017) comments on the steps it takes to fall like a supermodel; or
  • maybe you’d like to view or listen to an audio file on Kevin Spacey being charged with four criminal counts of sexual assault in the UK?
Celebrity being photographed CC
Paparazzi by Serena Snowfield (CC by 2.0)

 Privacy rights of celebrities?

Is reporting about celebrities and their activities in real time, on social media sites, fair and reasonable? Is there a line that is crossed when a celebrity is surveilled and their privacy invaded? Perhaps celebrities should not have the same rights to privacy that regular citizens have?

Rock chicks
Limelight paparazzi by Eric?Kimber (CC by 2.0)

In a recent poll of classmates on Twitter (Shaw 2017) I asked do celebrities forfeit their right to privacy? Everyone who responded had an opinion.

Some may argue that celebrities are unique and forfeit their private citizen rights when they become a celebrity. They may reason that being a celebrity requires surveillance to create publicity – which is the bread and butter of their occupation. Further, such a commentator may note that celebrities are happy to be photographed and recorded for their own publicity purposes, when it suits them, but are not so accommodating when they are not looking or feeling their best, or are caught in a compromising position.

Yet is this argument ethical? McFarland (2012) observes that ‘People can be harmed or debilitated if there is no restriction on the public’s access to and use of personal information’. Further he notes that:

To lose control of one’s personal information is in some measure to lose control of one’s life and one’s dignity. Therefore, even if privacy is not in itself a fundamental right, it is necessary to protect other fundamental rights. (McFarland 2012, p.1)

Are celebrities private citizens?

If celebrities’ are deemed to be private citizens how should their rights to privacy be protected? Gross (2017) concludes that ‘The tension arises out of the juxta positioning of a journalist’s right to freedom of expression and an individual’s expectation of privacy.’ Determining responses to the privacy related questions that arise is a legal matter that is governed by privacy laws that vary from country to country.

In Australia the law states that public figures do not forfeit their right to privacy. Campbell v MGN Ltd cited in the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) Privacy guidelines for broadcasters (2016) states:

Public figures such as politicians, celebrities, prominent sports and business people and those in public office do not forfeit their right to privacy in their personal lives. However, it is accepted that public figures will be open to a greater level of scrutiny of any matter that may affect the conduct of their public activities and duties. (ACMA 2016, p.6).

Voyeurism – watching from the shadows

Yet aside from various privacy laws, the broader question is why is the public interested in checking social media sites about celebrities date nights, divorces and weight issues? Surely if there was no public appetite for watching celebrities, then social media sites specialising in gossip would soon go out of business? Perhaps the answer is that surveilling others is a characteristic of human behaviour and that many of us are closet voyeurs?

Man with coloured binoculars
Cachalejos by Rodrigo Tejeda (CC by 2.0)

Although data may be being collected and the social media sites and content that we are looking at may be tracked, the average person may operate in denial and like to believe that they are anonymous – that they are watching people privately, without the knowledge of those they are watching.

A human instinct?

It may be that this behaviour is also a function of human nature – based on a survival instinct. This may manifest as tracking other humans and strangers in the environment in order to keep alert about potentially suspicious behaviour. This behaviour may also be required to understand the functioning of the group and avoid harm and danger.

Proof of suspicious behaviour

A recent positive outcome of a person surveilling a stranger and tracking suspicious behaviour was reported on (Buzzfeed News 2017, p.1). The social media site reported that a teacher sitting on a plane became suspicious when she saw the man in front of her texting in large font, on a big smartphone screen, about sexually molesting young children.

Texting on smartphone
Person looking at smartphone in the dark by (CC by 2.0)

The quick thinking teacher photographed the text messages, alerted the airline staff and provided police with the evidence at the airport. On this basis the man was arrested by the police.

Not all surveillance is negative

There are a number of things that are impressive about the way that the teacher behaved in the situation. Through her surveillance she determined that: there was a serious problem that she needed to act upon and that she should collect and provide evidence to support her surveillance. The teacher’s courage to act on her surveillance made all the difference in the case and illustrates the point that not all surveillance is negative.

Prison by Luke Duncan (CC by 2.0)

Reference List

Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) 2017, Privacy guidelines for broadcasters, ACMA, retrieved 6 August 2017 <;.

Bella Hadid models how to fall 2017, live streaming video, TMZ, retrieved 5 August 2017,.

Eric / Kimber, 2007, Limelight paparazzi, photograph, retrieved 6 August 2017,. <;.

Gross, B 2017, ‘Harvesting social media for journalistic purposes in the UK: The balance between privacy rights and freedom of expression’, in WJ Schünemann & MO Baumann (eds), Privacy, Data Protection and Cybersecurity in Europe, Springer International Publishing, pp. 31–42., 2015,  Person looking at smartphone in the dark, photograph, retrieved 6 August 2017,. <>.

Jurvetson, S 2005,  Voyeur, photograph, retrieved 8 August 2017,. <;.

McFarland, M 2012, ‘Why we care about privacy’ retrieved 6 August 2017, .                                  <;. 2022, ‘The grim last days of Nick Cave’s troubled son Jethro Lazenby‘, retrieved 30 May 2022 , . < story/2f2c7893695014b38a86a4dbbe57fa83>

Sacks, B 2017, A woman sitting on a flight helped save kids from sex abuse after she saw a man’s texts, Buzzfeed News, retrieved 5 August 2017, < >

Shaw M 2017, “Do celebrities forfeit their right to privacy?’, Twitter poll, 6 August, retrieved 7 August 2017,.

Snowfield, S 2013, Paparazzi photographing celebrity, photograph, retrieved 6 August 2017,. <;.

Tejeda, R 2011, Cachalejos, photograph, retrieved 6 August 2017,. <;.

Yossman, KJ 2022, ‘Kevin Spacey charged with four counts of sexual assault in the UK‘ retrieved 30 May 2022, <;.


  1. Hi Maria,

    Fantastic blog and a topic I’m very interested in especially when the paparazzi invade schools of celebrities children which I personally don’t support.

    Overall, you just may want to double check Harvard’s requirements on quoting in particular quotation marks. For instance, your first quotation marks here are incorrect (‘’) People can be harmed or debilitated if there is no restriction on the public’s access to and use of personal information”. Secondly, Harvard requires single quotation marks and not double when quoting (check out the Harvard referencing here in section 3 for examples of what I mean.

    I think the title is catchy and memorable. The imagery and embedded tweets are relevant and placed appropriately. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your positive feedback Kelly

      You are correct about the referencing – I will take more care in the future.

      Great that you thought the embedded tweets and imagery were okay. I thought they may have been a little full on and OTT.

      Thank you for taking the time to review my blog. I will review your blog too this week – I promise.

      Kind regards Maria


  2. A very topical subject and I enjoyed your post, made easy to read with practical examples and images to support. I found the opening engaging and, while I answered no to each of the questions (and felt happy about that), it did engage me to keep reading.

    The link between online voyeurism and human instinct is an interesting one and I’d be keen to see that explored further. I am sure there is some interesting research into this and the notion of these behaviours being an adaptation to our changing environment is a fascinating one. It wasn’t that long ago we were posting letters (some of us still do!) or sending telegraphs. As a human race we are needing to adapt at increasingly rapid speeds to the changing world, but how do we bring our old behaviours or “human nature” with us.

    I’d be tempted to approach this as two separate blog posts, the first on celebrities and their right to privacy. And the second on social media enabling ordinary citizens to act. The quick-thinking teacher was able to detect suspicious behaviour and report it is an example of community action – and this would be well worth exploring in a separate post.

    An enjoyable read Maria and I look forward to your next post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the very positive feedback Emily

      You raise a very good point and it was a question that I wasn’t sure about ie whether I should split the blog into 2 as the topics celebrities and privacy and social media enabling citizens to act could be discrete in themselves.

      I think I was conflicted and wanted to explore the question about generally about whether surveillance via social media in its various forms was wholly a bad thing.

      I appreciate you taking the time to review my blog and look forward to reading yours.

      Kind regards Maria


    • You raised an interesting point about voyeurs being in denial of their ‘watching’ and how this can affect the subject being watched. This feeling of anonymity is an interesting aspect of voyeurism and is an aspects that can call into question of responsibility of individuals socially and privately and their role and impact in this domain.


      • Hey Laughtercup I liked your feedback. Strange that voyeurs can be in denial of their behaviour / actions in a sense. Maybe this may explain why some ‘watchers’take no action because they feel invisible?
        Keep laughing, cheers Maria.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Maria,

    Congrats on your blog, I thought the topic was very interesting and something that needs to be discussed more in our society. The feeling of being powerless when ‘under surveillance’ by celebrities or everyday people needs to be addressed.
    I thought heading was catchy and the pictures where relevant to the content and added value. A couple of grammatical errors such as your dots points at the start would be better read
    Do you want to read: then create the dots points and either use a full stop or a ‘or’. Also, some questions could be just statements as I feel you have discussed them to be put as such.
    I agree with a previous poster in the way that you have 2 really great topics and I think you could amalgamate them with an introduction (but have to reduce the word count) or separate posts.
    Either one would be a great read! Look forward to reading the next one.



    • Thanks so much for your feedback Sian – greatly appreciated and very helpful. This requirement to provide blog feedback by Adam is genius!
      I agree that the blog is really 2 in one. I thought that after I wrote it – but then wasn’t sure and I thought I’d wait for feedback. I think I may re-post the blog splitting it into 2 and see how that goes.
      I agree too that the dot points at the start are messy as hell and ugly and played around with them a lot. I felt constrained by the in text citation requirements which I think makes them look like a dog’s breakfast. In the end I thought I’d just better follow the Harvard referencing requirements.
      Sian I’m gonna return the favour and provide you with some feedback but I think you need to be following me for my feedback to be accepted. No pressure – happy either way.
      Cheers Maria


  4. Hey Maria

    I really enjoyed reading your article. I find the topic of celebrity, and indeed our overall fascination with the rich and famous, to be really bizarre. Perhaps we really are a society of voyeurs, although personally it does not interest me in the slightest.
    I liked how you posed many questions to the reader, allowing us to engage with your thought process and then explore our own. However, I would have liked if you fleshed out the question you posed about societies appetite for this celebrity content. If you had more time (plus words!) you could have opened up on this and found some data that really highlighted how popular this content is with the public, and how often it is shared/posted on social media channels.

    Overall really great read!


    • Thanks for your positive review Regan. You’re right it is very bizarre that humans are fascinated with celebrity and personally I don’t consider myself to be a voyeur. I think a blog on society’s appetite for celebrity content is really another blog in itself. I have taken my classmates feedback on board and have reworked this blog and will hopefully publish an improved version tomorrow. I appreciate you making the time to review my work.
      Kind regards Maria


  5. Hi Maria,

    Your post’s title and first image are engaging and linking to inane stories about celebrities’ personal lives introduces your topic well. (One of the links is broken though.)

    You make a good point about the public creating a market for privacy-invading material and I found the discussion about motivation for voyeurism interesting. You also touch on tracking of our individual social media use as surveillance. This is a great topic for further exploration.

    I’ve just noticed the number of comments before mine and commend you on picking a topic that got us reading. What does that say about us and celebrity voyeurism?

    As mentioned in another comment, an update of your reference list might be worthwhile. You may not need to list your own tweets or appropriately attributed creative commons images.


    • Thanks so much for making the time to review my blog Simone. I really appreciate your comments about the content. So interesting that some of us cant resist reading about celebrity voyeurism – even when we may not be consumers of gossip magazines and sites.
      Human motivation for voyeurism certainly is a murky area that I suspect may change as people become more aware of who is watching and tracking who.
      I have taken your feedback onboard and updated my reference list in my latest blog Secrets Celebrity and Privacy. I also hope to review your latest blog that I read earlier in the week.

      Kind regards Maria

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Maria

    Judging by the number of peer reviews you either clearly have a catchy title or we are all interested in perving of the lives of celebrities. Or both! Well done!

    I agree with the other reviewers that this blog covers two different topics. You started with a really strong discussion on social media providing voyeurism opportunities into the lives of celebrities. This subject on its own makes for a great blog.

    I don’t believe this voyeurism is new. The gossip magazine and associated paparazzi have been notorious for decade. As you’ve demonstrated, social media has enhanced this voyeurism and provided a more enabling environment for those who love to follow the every move (whether truth or fiction) of celebrities. Alternatively, social media has also been a powerful tool for celebrities themselves by giving them power over how and how much of their private lives is shared. The singer Pink is a great example of this. She uses her Instagram account to provide an insight into her very ordinary family life. Likewise, Schapelle Corby cleverly used social media to thwart the traditional media on her return to Australia. Rather that following the surveillance angle, it would have been good to see you explore this.

    However, it looks like you further explored the celebrity subject in another blog. I look forward to reading it!


    • Hi Linda
      Thanks for making the time to provide me with feedback on my blog ‘Fifty shades of voyeurism’ – greatly appreciated. I agree that the blog covers two topics and that it could be strengthened by focusing on celebrity privacy or voyeurism. As a result I wrote a new blog ‘Secrets, celebrity and privacy’ and narrowed my focus. If you have time to see whether I have adequately taken feedback on board and whether this is an improvement you could check it out at
      Kind regards Maria

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Maria,
    I just want to say a big WOW!! Your blog post is awesome! The brief and intriguing introduction is a hook so I couldn’t refuse to keep reading the rest of your post. I love all the visuals you use because they are in high quality, vivid and illustrative of what you are writing about. Your content is good, too with convincing arguments.
    However, you may add more concrete proofs to your ideas in the section “Voyeurism – watching from the shadows”. My suggestion is adding some stats and scholarly sources on how much the public is interested in news about celebrities’ private lives on social media and the evidence of social media sites specialising in gossip only, without public appetite for watching celebrities soon going out of business. With the story on Buzzfeed News, a question raised in my mind is if the privacy of the man is invaded? If possible, please explain more about it.
    Really enjoy reading your post! Thanks for sharing, Maria!


    • Thanks for your feedback Nhat Vo
      I would love to have included other things in this blog as it’s such a large topic and there’s so much to write about but the word limit was a restriction However it’s also a challenge and as I get better at embedding other media in my blog I can add more content
      Have a great day
      Cheers Maria


  8. Hi,Maria
    I like your headline and I am very interested in your blog because I have a lot of interest in celebrities, I want to know about him, but I feel pity for celebrities who photographed while they having resting time or do something crazy. Your poll made me know what the majority of people think which corresponds to my mind. You have many references, which is good. I like that you take the news to tweets and share and make people in twitter see and follow. There may be some grammatical errors, but overall it is a wonderful blog. Thank you for making this blog available to readers.
    Cheers ,Misty


    • Hi Misty
      Thanks for your review it sure is a fascinating topic. It makes me glad I’m not a celebrity as I like to enjoy myself without seeing it the next day on a SM site. The poll responses were very interesting to initiate and in some ways I was surprised by the results. I’ll have to pay more attention to my referencing I think.
      Kind regards Maria

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Maria,
    Nice article written over here. Of all the good points, this was a great discussion on celebrity surveillance. As the celebrity, their lack of privacy. Some of people would say, celebrities should not be protected from the media, because they sell their privacy to you to get more attention. But I think, everyone has a right to privacy, even though it is apart of being famous privacy is something that everyone should have.

    Thank your for sharing your thoughts with us, looking forward your next one!


    • Thanks for your very positive review Xiliu Yan.
      I agree with your points about celebrity and privacy and think that even though some celebrities may trade fame for privacy perhaps they don’t always understand what they are losing until it is lost. Also just because some celebrities may not value their privacy as much as others doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t still have their privacy protected because in many ways it is part of human rights, dignity and respect for the individual.
      Kind regards Maria


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