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‘The cameras are always on': Our culture of public image mishaps

Published December 12, 2013 at 6:31 am

Journalists have been having a field day with a recent photo that made the rounds on the internet after Nelson Mandela’s memorial service earlier this week. One candid moment, in which three world leaders took a snapshot with a personal phone, has become imbued with meaning and commented on throughout the media.

The now-infamous photo depicts President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Smith leaning in to take a photo with a phone. Though this is more a matter of public image than promoting a company brand, it’s still become something of a meme, with commentators of all kinds weighing in on the political significance or lack thereof that the Agence France-Presse was able to capture.

But as the Telegraph reports, Cameron recently made a statement that seems to speak volumes about the way that we react to these events and might find ourselves in them without realizing it fully. During this week’s “Prime Minister’s Questions,” he responded to a joke about his role in the so-called “funeral selfie” by saying, “Perhaps, in my defense, you should remember that the television cameras are always on.”

This is prime advice for any company with an outpouring of visual content that may or may not accidentally launch a significant image that colonizes the public’s opinion of them. It’s happened recently with Campbell Soups and its ill-advised Pearl Harbor tweet—there’s nothing to say that a simple moment of downtime might leap to the front page of the internet without any particular warning.

As much care as you take with the images you want to “go viral,” everything you put out should be treated as if the television cameras are almost definitely watching

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