A Private Wedding

Please don't Instagram my wedding.

A Wedding Invitation Is Not A Media Pass

I knew something was changing when a few years ago, I got this question: A reader’s uncle had videotaped her vows on his iPhone, and the day after the wedding had uploaded them to his Facebook page and tagged her in the post. His message was that her vows were so lovely that he felt compelled to share them. Her message was that she felt like her privacy had been violated. She wondered if it would be tremendously rude to ask him to take the video down. “Of course it’s not rude,” I replied. “What was rude was to record one of the most personal moments of someone’s life, and to share it as if it belonged to you.”

Fast forward to 2013, and that exchange already feels dated. Mark Zuckerberg thinks that the amount that we share online and through social media will double every year. I don’t think that’s exactly true, since already we’re all shutting down feeds we can’t keep up with (for me, that’s Facebook—sorry Mark). But it’s true that the way people share has changed drastically in the last few years. It’s not just the ubiquity of social networking sites, it’s the way smart phones have put effortless power in our hands. If we can easily take a video, or snap a picture, we can just as thoughtlessly share those photos or videos. We’ve forgotten the person who records the moment (and makes it pretty) is not the person the moment belongs to. We’ve forgotten that privacy has value.

You Don’t Need A Reason 

The other week, I was reading an advice column about a woman who didn’t want her children’s pictures shared on social media. Since I’m in a substantially similar position (I share my kid’s pictures in very limited and reasonably private ways), I related. But the advice columnist’s response threw me. They told the woman to tell people, “I know I’m paranoid, but I’d rather you didn’t share my kids picture online.” And thanks for playing, but no. I don’t ask people to not share pictures of my kid because I’m afraid of predators; I just think that he should get to choose how he lives on the internet. I don’t want to make that choice for him, and I definitely don’t want some random person making the call. I disagree with the advice columnist because I don’t think asking people not to share your private life online requires an excuse. I just think it requires a please and thank you.

If you’re asking people to not share your wedding pictures on social media, you might feel like you need a reason, or feel compelled to make an excuse. You might think, “I’m not comfortable having my pictures shared, but it’s not like I’m famous, so what right do I have to ask for that?” But the reason is simply that weddings are private. You invited your uncle, not your uncle and all of his Facebook friends. You’re collecting a community of people to witness a very personal commitment. By doing that, you have the right to request and expect privacy. Figuring out how to do that well is the key.

How Do You Want Your Wedding Shared?

As with all things wedding, this is a conversation best had with your partner first, and then clearly articulated to vendors as well as friends and family. Let’s walk through questions to ask yourself and others.

  • How are you comfortable having your wedding photos shared online? Do you not care at all? Are you fine with photos being shared in a very public way (say, a wedding blog), but want to control how they are shared where your friends and loved ones will see them (say, Facebook)? Are you fine with having your photos shared, as long as you get to pre-approve where it happens? (i.e., maybe APW is fine with you, but Bride’s Magazine is not. Or hell, vice versa!) Are you fine with having some photos shared, but not others? (We opted to not share photos of our ceremony, because that felt hyper-personal.)
  • Once you have an idea of what you’re comfortable with, ask your vendors how they like to share photos online, and why they like to do it that way. (If you’ve hired good vendors, chances are they’ll have thoughtful answers.)
  • If you decide that you’re not comfortable having all your photos shared online, but really want to help your vendors out with publicity, discuss options like sharing photos that don’t include guests, or other personal details. Alternatively, consider letting them share shots that don’t include personally identifying details (i.e., distance shots of the two of you, detail shots, etc.). Keep in mind: if your photos are shared on blogs, they’re going to end up on Pinterest. It’s the current reality of the internet.
  • If you come to a specific agreement, consider including it in your contract with vendors, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Next, think about how you want guests to share photos and videos. Having photos of your wedding shared on Facebook, Instagram, or other personal networks means that your ex, or a friend you didn’t invite, or a family member you are estranged from, might see them. That is a different animal than having your wedding published on a blog or in a magazine. (I’m kind of assuming your ex and your crazy Aunt Mindy aren’t avid wedding blog readers, but what do I know?) Because of that, it’s okay to have a different standard for personal sharing.
  • If you decide you want to encourage sharing (this can be a great way to get wedding pictures from a personal perspective), consider coming up with an Instagram hashtag, and leaving a note on the tables (or in the programs, if that’s how you roll) letting people know what it is. Tell people that you’re excited to see their pictures, and let them go to town. (Our post on crowdsourcing your wedding photos on Instagram has even better ideas).
  • If you want to limit sharing on social networks, or want to personally choose how much you share, consider putting a sign up where people can see it when they walk in. The sign can ask that people refrain from all sharing, or just from a particular kind of sharing. It might seem weird right now, but with social sharing on the rise, expect this to become more common. At our baby shower, friends put a note on the door that said, “This might surprise you, but Meg and David are actually fairly private people. Out of respect for them, please don’t share photos of this event on Instagram.” Problem solved, and no one minded. In fact, this turned out to be far more graceful than parties where we didn’t put up a note, and friends realized they’d shared things that we would have preferred they didn’t share, but were not fussed enough to ask them to remove.
  • If you’re asking people to refrain from sharing photos or video of your event, go the extra step. Talk to key players in your wedding about why you’re doing this, and ask them to put the word out. If your mothers, aunts, and best friends all have the message, they’ll make sure word is spread, and you won’t have to feel bossy.
  • Realize that whatever you do, the system will be imperfect. People may well share things you didn’t want shared, just out of habit. Asking people politely to take things down is not rude in the slightest, and deciding you don’t care enough to ask is fine too.
  • And finally, as a guest at a wedding (or any other private event), inquire before you post. The two questions I ask most regularly are “Is it okay to share pictures?” and “Is there something you’d like me to use as a hashtag?” Often the response will be very specific, “Sharing is fine, please don’t geo-tag.” Or, “Make sure you don’t share photos of kids, otherwise we’re golden!” or “I’m keeping this one offline.” Occasionally the answer is “What’s Instagram?” but that’s when I’ve asked the wrong demographic (and our teenage cousins are just going to SnapChat our parties, let’s not fool ourselves).

The Moment

Of course, there is a hidden upside to limiting people’s social sharing of your wedding: it forces people to be in the moment. As I talked about in my “Don’t Pin It—Do It” post, we’ve all become so used to sharing what we’re doing online, that we sometimes don’t know how to turn it off. Sometimes the reminder to put away your phone, to put down your camera, comes as a relief. I don’t have to document this one, I can just experience it. Thanks for that.

**Note: For a different (but equally important) take on technology and weddings, check out Offbeat Bride’s classing The Unplugged Wedding.**

Photo Kara Schultz

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