Sharing photos on Facebook is one of the core purposes of Facebook, and that's even where the company's name comes from. However, posting photos -- especially when they include other people or don't belong to you -- comes with certain responsibilities ethically, legally and as a user who has signed Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. In general Facebook uses the honor system, granting you extensive permissions which are then yours to use responsibly.
No Technological Restrictions
Facebook has no technology in place to stop you from uploading any photo, and it doesn't moderate the photos you upload. Instead it handles objectionable photos after the fact by offering objectors the opportunity to remove tags of themselves, file a copyright infringement claim or report abusive content. This means you don't need Facebook's permission to post a photo. As far as the hardware and software running Facebook is concerned, you can post whatever you like. However, if you post photos that violate Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, Facebook may warn you or even revoke your ability to upload more photos.
Violation of Privacy
Posting photos of other people without their permission is a violation of their trust and can potentially lead to them taking legal action against you. However, as far as Facebook itself is concerned, if you live in the United States you can generally post pictures of other adults -- but not children -- without their permission. Facebook generally won't remove photos unless they violate the company's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which can happen if your photo contains nudity or sexually explicit content, hate speech, personal attacks -- especially against an ex-partner -- or depictions of harm, violence or illegal drug use.
If the photo in question belongs to somebody else, you may be committing copyright infringement if you upload it. Photos automatically belong to the people who take them, unless specified otherwise beforehand. This includes taking a photo on somebody else's camera -- the actual photographer, not the camera owner, owns the photo. Thus, if you didn't take the photo yourself, get the owner's consent before posting it, which is the polite thing to do anyway. Facebook may disable your account if enough people file copyright infringement claims against you.
Even though Facebook doesn't require that you obtain permission before posting a photo, and even if you have every legal right to post it, it's still a good idea to ask permission from the other people appearing in the photo. This isn't necessarily the case with people far in the photo's background, but it applies whenever a photo depicts someone prominently or depicts them in a potentially embarrassing or upsetting way. According to a 2012 poll by Sophos, a cybersecurity company, 91 percent of Facebook users want a person to ask permission before posting photos of other people -- including 8 percent who dislike it so much they think it should be illegal. Posting pictures of others without their consent is a good way to turn your friendships bad.
- Facebook: Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
- Facebook: Image Privacy Rights
- Facebook: Reporting Copyright Infringements
- Facebook: Warnings
- Facebook: Photos Privacy
- United States Copyright Office: What Does Copyright Protect?
- Naked Security: Over 90% of Facebook Users Hate Having Photos Posted of Them Without Approval
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.