DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Wellness Wednesday: What does consent look like on Zoom?

Wellness Wednesday: What does consent look like on Zoom?

(Image courtesy of Health Promotion and Wellness)

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 possesses their own reasonable expectation of privacy on the internet. It's important to be mindful and respectful of these expectations wherever and whenever possible. With so many things going digital these days, we are seeing the only option for collaboration may be to host an online event, meeting or appointment 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? There are many ways and consent is a big part of that process. 

It's always best to ask for consent before recording a meeting or an online encounter. In the event the encounter must be recorded, you should send an initial disclaimer to attendees before the event, making them aware of your plans to record, just as you would do if you were in-person. For example, some people may be okay with a photographer or videographer documenting an in-person gathering with various faces showing, while others may not.  An in-person event provides the ability to speak up and  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. Sending out an initial disclaimer 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 also are bringing it to the attention of the attendees one more time. This gives 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 they may be in an environment 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 there are loud machines nearby or noise that would detract from the event or meeting if heard by the rest of the attendees. Instead, they chose to mute it.

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 typical digital encounter. 

On the flip side, facilitators appreciate  seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the attendees. It makes it easier to engage with the audience and feels less like talking to a wall or an empty room. When in doubt, aim to treat everyone with the respect they deserve. 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!