Thursday, 11 July 2013

Teenage parties and business opportunities: Promoters, photos and privacy

One of the consequnces of parents increasingly being unwilling to put on teenage parties due to the fear that they will get out of control is that when a 'gap' is created in the market there is always someone willing to fill it and try to make a quick buck out of it. Unfortunately, often those people are fairly unscrupulous and some of the activities that we are seeing are worrying to say the least.

Across the country law enforement are most concerned about party promoters who organise events targeting adolescents and then market  these via social media. There have been a number of these large scale parties or 'gatherings' that have ended up getting seriously out of control with hundreds of teens of all ages turning up, often resulting in some fairly serious anti-social behaviour by some of the partygoers leading to major problems for nearby residents and police. In response, the Queensland Government recently announced that they are considering new legislation in an attempt to control these type of events, enabling them to prosecute the promoters who are willing to take money from young people but not assume any responsibility if anything goes wrong!

In Adelaide over the past couple of years there have been a number of young people who have built businesses targeting post-formal parties for Year 12 students. These enterprising young people find a venue, hire djs, organise transport and then create and send out letters to students from a range of schools inviting them to what appears to be a completely legal 'after formal' event. The letter usually contains some mention of an alcohol limit for each young person attending (usually a four can limit) and discusses a fee that those wishing to attend must pay prior to the event. Here are some excerpts from one of those letters that did the rounds last year:

"There is a fifty five dollar entry fee for the event: this money will go towards the hire of the venue, marquee, dance-floor, toilets, stage, audio visual equipment, security and catering ... If money is not received by ..., spots will not be allocated to those guests who have not paid."

"It is of great importance that parents understand that there will be alcohol at the event. Alcohol will not be supplied, but each guest is permitted to bring a maximum of four drinks per person. Drinks must be brought in CANS only - bottles will be confiscated. This will occur under the supervision of the organising parents and security ... Whilst it is not illegal for persons under the age of eighteen to consume alcohol on private property, it is important that all parents are made aware that alcohol will be available and may be consumed ...."

The letter is five pages long and contains a great deal of information and it really does seem like the organiser is a professional who has been doing this for years. It also appears as though this is a school-sanctioned event with the name of the school being mentioned a number of times. This certainly wasn't a school event, however, and it appears that the organiser was in fact a young man who had only just recently finished Year 12 himself! It was also a completely illegal event. When we checked with SA police and showed them the letter they made it clear that there was no way the event could take place without a liquor license - because of the all inclusive fee the organiser would need a license, even if he was not supplying the alcohol himself. The police would have shut the event down if it had actually started and it is highly likely that the young man would walk away with a healthy profit, not making any mention of refunds in the letter.

But I was recently contacted by a parent who was worried about another type of business connected with teenage parties - a company that offered a photography service linked to Facebook for those holding such events. Her daughters were both invited to a party on a Friday night (both did not attend) but after the event had taken place her eldest child showed her some photos on FB of the 'gathering'. There were a range of concerns that the mother expressed in the email including the fact that there were children from Year 8 up to Year 12 (from several different schools) present and it was clear from the photos that there was alcohol being served, but her main worry were that these photos were posted on a public Facebook page (I won't name the company for a range of reasons) and were available for the world to see .. Here is some information that could be found on the company's FB page:

"Here at (name of company), we know that the holidays are a time for relaxation. And for most of you, 'relaxation' means partying. As such, to celebrate the much anticipated term break, (name of company) is offering a very special school holiday offer. If you're a high school student hosting a party between the 6th and the 21st of July, you can get a photography package valued at $150 for only $20. That includes: 1 full night's photography; every picture individually edited to perfection; and 1 complete Facebook album on the (name of company) page - immortalising your party."

It needs to be made clear that the majority of parties on the FB page look as though they are 'over 18 events', however, the statement above is clearly targeting high school students, the majority of whom would be underage. Worryingly, the page also contains the following caveat:
 
"*(Name of company) is not responsible for the content captured at any events. This includes, but is not limited to: nudity, drugs, alcohol and anti-social behavior."

They do state that if anyone has a problem with any photos that all it takes to have them removed is to "message the page and photos will be taken down", but you have to wonder how long it would take for someone to find out that there was an image that was problematic. The caveat is a huge worry - basically they're saying that if someone is upset by an image, they are accepting no responsibility!

The mother who contacted me had found out from a young man who had attended the party how the photos were taken. Apparently the photographer was 'young' himself and partygoers had to go up to him to 'ask' to be photographed. She questioned whether the few boys she had noticed passed out in the background in a couple of the photos had actually been able to give their permission. She was also worried that teens who were at the party were tagging themselves and commenting on the photos so that the photos were appearing on a growing number of young people's 'walls'.

Young people need to attend teenage parties - that's where they learn to socialise. Increasingly, however, we are seeing younger and younger people being encouraged by these type of businesses to take part in what are essentially adult activities. This photography company is a classic example of this - the FB page is full of photos of adult events, yet it also actively targets underage people and then puts images of the two side by side.

Realistically it all comes down to good parenting - if your teen wants to attend a gathering on the weekend, it is vital that you find as much as you can about the event. That includes who is holding it, how it will be run and who is attending ... unfortunately for some parents it seems as if that is just too difficult!

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