Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. An artful PSA: Recently, an ex of mine contacted me about some digitally altered pics I had posted detailing experiences I went through with him. He wanted me to remove them, as they did not portray him as the “nice guy” everyone knows. I had always kept my promise of never posting them when we were together, but nothing was said or implied about after a breakup. I’m an artist and writer. Sometimes these guys become my muse or source of inspiration when I need to express my thoughts and feelings at the time. They also serve as PSAs for people in similar situations who might feel as if they are going through, let’s say, domestic violence. Sure, I know there is a risk, but am I obligated to take down my artistic creations when there are no names attached to these pieces? I should add he was never a follower of mine on these sites when we were together.
A: “Obligated” in what sense? Morally, legally, relationally? How “altered” are these pictures, and was the alteration in service of increased anonymity for him, or in heightened dramatic tension? Did you, say, blur his face a little bit, or did you fictionalize the scenes entirely? I can’t help but suspect that what you altered, and in what direction, is the most important question and you declined to elaborate on that front because you weren’t sure it would help your case. I don’t think it’s relevant whether your ex “followed” your social media page when you were together. If he’s still recognizable in the pictures you’ve posted, I don’t think it’s relevant that you’ve withheld his name, either; if he might reasonably expect people to be able to identify him in the pictures, he certainly has a right to object. At that point you’ll have to use your own judgment to determine whether you think his objection holds water.
If you don’t care about staying friends with your ex, that’s a relevant data point. You might at that point decide you want to stand by your artistic decision, even if he objects to it or threatens legal action, and perhaps consult a lawyer yourself. But there’s a difference between “I want to keep it up because it’s true and operating as a PSA” and “I want to keep it up because it’s my art,” and it will be important for you to decide which assertion you want to make.