Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Was #braeheadfail an issue of perceptions?

Unrelated picture of my child eating ice cream
Braehead fail

Unless you have been hiding under the only rock that doesn't have wi-fi you will have seen something of the story about what happened when a parent took pictures of a child in a Scottish shopping centre.

The furious parent posted the sorry tale on Facebook and all it took was one damp Sunday afternoon to go viral. 

I have started to be just as alarmed by the phenomena of the virtual viral as I am of the real one. Neither seem to be entirely logical nor is there much of a cure. 

As far as I can see when something "goes viral" it is spread - like an infection - from one person who doesn't know the whole story to the next. It's so easy to click a story onward and outward with a quick "goodness, that's terrible, now what's for tea?". 

You don't really know the whole story, the other side of the story or even if it's a true story. Remember the Gay Girl In Damascus

In this case what happened in Braehead, actually happened as it was told, but I do think that perhaps a little distortion by assumption was going on. 

Let me explain. I read the Facebook post and got to this bit: 

"Walking down the shopping mall a man approached me from behind as I was carrying my daughter in my arms. He came from behind me, cutting in front of me and told me to stop. That was quite a shock as I am wary of people with crew cuts and white shirts suddenly appearing in front of me, but then realised he was a security guard.

"He then said I had been spotted taking photos in the shopping centre which was 'illegal' and not allowed and then asked me to delete any photos I had taken. I explained I had taken 2 photos of my daughter eating ice cream and that she was the only person in the photo so didn't see any problem. i also said that I wasn't that willing to delete the photo's and there seemed little point as I had actually uploaded them to facebook.

"He then said i would have to stay right where I was while he called the police, which seemed as little extreme. My daughter was crying by this stage, but I said that was fine I would wait and began to comfort my daughter who was saying she didn't like the man and wanted to go. After about 5 minutes two police officers arrived."

OK, so far so shocking. In my mind's eye there is a mother with a little girl - small enough to carry - who is sobbing. I know the shopping centre with it's harsh lighting and marble floors. I can see it in my head. 

Right, then the story goes on to tell of bewildered parent, distressed child and illogial and authoritarian people in uniform. 

But then I discovered that it wasn't a mum but a dad. I had made the wrong assumption. In the early stages of this story being passed on Twitter and Facebook, I wasn't alone. 

So now we're clear who the story is about, go back and read that bit again, only it's a dad with a daughter. Does it make a difference? 

What about in the subsequent sections?

"The older police officer was actually quite intimidating in his nature. He said that there had been a complaint about me taking photos and that there were clear signs in Braehead shopping centre saying that no photographs were allowed. I tried to explain that I hadn't seen any clearly displayed signs and that I had taken 2 photos of my daughter.
"As i was trying to explain he said I was interrupting him and that I should remain quiet until he had finished speaking to me. Not wanting to distress my daughter further, and to allow him to finish I let him continue. At one stage i was reassuring my daughter that everything was okay, only to be told I wasn't listening by the officer.

"Once he had finished, i then started to explain again my situation, only for the officer to start speaking again. Apparently different rules of respect apply when someone other than a police officer is speaking. I explained that that far from being aggressive when the security guard came over, the way he approached me was threatening and intimidating.
"I was told that was my word against his. Although this didn't seem to be the case when the security guard alleged that I was threatening when I had a 4 year old in my arms and waited patiently for the police to arrive."
How different is the movie in your mind when it's a dad to when it's a mum?
Clearly what happened to this dad was shocking and the idea of it being illegal to take pictures of your own kids is a nonsense. The shopping centre, after a text-book example of how not to handle a PR crisis, has come good, apologised and changed the rule. 
What I'm fascinated by is whether the furore would have happened if the gender of the parent was obvious from the off. Rightly or wrongly, I suspect not. 


  1. It was defo only because it was a Dad. R is always texting me photos of C when they are out and about though! This is one of those 'world's gone mad' stories imo.

  2. Jo, you're right it's bonkers. But it's also fascinating. Issues of gender, stupid rules, social media and a PR disaster.

  3. Not sure about this Ellen as my mum got a row for taking photos of my nephews at a swimming pool. She was sitting at a table away from the pool and the only children around were ours so it wasn't as if she was capturing other people's children.

    Oddly enough they didn't do anything about the elderly man lurking in the tunnel in a position that children had to rub against him to get by when they were pulling themselves along using the railing. I had to tell our boys to stay out of the tunnel unless I was with them.

  4. I knew from the outset that it was about a dad, and I really don't think that affected my fury at the way he was treated. The distress of the child was the big thing for me, and then the idiocy of the security guard, the incorrect procedure followed by the Police and the incompetence of the Braehead PR people.

    I think the whole thing underlines why all of us should stand up to authority whenever it is being misused. You can do so in a perfectly reasonable way and Chris White has given us all a bit of a masterclass in the subject.

  5. As a father of daughters, the proposition you put forward should be wholly unacceptable even though, as a description of where we are as a society, it may well be accurate. At what point did all men become suspect, just for being men? At what point were only women allowed to parent or even love their children? Why did policy makers allow themselves to be dictated to by a self-selecting group of poorly educated people who do not know the difference between a paedophile and a paediatrician? Did this happen in the pages of the Daily Mail or the News of the World? It is a terrible, terrible lie.

  6. Linda, I'm not saying that any of what happened was acceptable, just that gender - or apparent gender - might have been a factor. And that no one did anything about that man at the pool is shocking. Did anyone call the police?

    Caron, the way the whole thing was handled was very bad, especially, as there was a child involved.

    RDS, I agree it is unacceptable. The prospect of the bogieMAN in our midst is one that is perpetuated in all manner of media.

  7. I didn't complain to the management at the pool about the man just in case I was jumping the gun. It was a hard one to call but I was wary in case he was just an old man standing in the wrong place but I don't think that my first impression was wrong. I'd imagine that few adults would think it acceptable for small children to be rubbing against them.
    If I'd know at the time that they had given my mum a row I might have taken a different route but I just made sure that none of our boys went anywhere near him.

  8. Here's an interesting thing. I was at Braehead on Sunday with my daughter who's 13. We went to Pizza Hut and from there on to Mark Knopfler/Bob Dylan. We took loadsa photos completely untroubled
    Warning! they're no' great but they are photos!

  9. Bigrab, wow your daughter wanted to see Knopfler/Dylan - you have done an excellent job with her!
    I think that time will show that there was an awful lot more going on with Mr White and his photos.

  10. What also makes me so cross about this is that we have a right to take pictures of our children even if other children are in them - this whole privacy and child protection stuff is tosh - utter tosh except some idiots have misread the law and are now stopping people taking pictures of nativity plays and the such

    *bangs head on wall*

  11. Muddling Along, I agree, it's just too much and too silly. Though, now, I think that wasn't really the issue in this case.


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