Entitled Women Who Eat On Tubes (WWEOT), the group totals some 15,000 members and features images of women, typically taken without their knowledge or permission, along with the time, the food consumed and Tube line in question.
It claims to be “observational, not judgemental” and insists “it does not intimidate nor bully.”
Literature on the site adds: “Subjects are embraced and cherished. We celebrate and encourage women eating food on tubes, we do not marginalise them. We always look for the story in the picture. We don’t swear.”
But one woman who found herself featured on the website did not agree.
Writing for The Debrief, Sophie Wilkinson said: “I felt victimised and hurt. Was it really not the original poster’s intention to humiliate me by accompanying the photo with the caption ‘Good to be contributing more than rubbish chat!’? Is the site really not intending to show up women as undignified and sloppy for doing something so basic as eating on public transport?”
When Wilkinson asked for her picture to be removed, she revealed: “The abuse went up a notch. I was cussed for being ginger, for being a journalist, for being what they think is an ‘amateur’ journalist. I was called a ‘witch’ and then came [more] sexual comments.”
While group creator Tony Burke claims “it isn’t about women” and that “the gender aspect is a random coincidence,” Wilkinson disputes this.
She said: “It is clearly about women. I don’t think shaming strangers is a gender-specific issue but this particular one is.”
University of Strathclyde Professor of Psychology Kevin Durkin tells The Debrief the new phenomenon of “stranger shaming” is due to the growth of social media.
He said: “It is a form of bullying. The photographer/ uploader has a means of power over others and derives pleasure from demeaning them.
“The photographer may persuade himself that his actions are somehow rectifying a wrong. For example, a person behaved unpleasantly and so he or she ‘deserves’ the punishment of public humiliation. But, as the victim’s discomfort is not observed directly, the photographer has even less reason to think about the negative consequences of her actions than does a playground bully.”
While it is not illegal to take photographs of people in public places, British Transport Police (BTP) is encouraging women who feel threatened by the use of their pictures on Facebook to contact them.
A BTP spokesman told HuffPost UK: “We are committed to tackling all forms of inappropriate behaviour on the rail and Tube network.
“We will work closely with complainants to challenge such behaviour and will seek to take the appropriate action in each case.
“If you notice anyone acting suspiciously on your journey, or if you have witnessed an incident, we want to hear from you as your information could assist officers and prevent a crime taking place.”
If photographs are lewd or indecent, i.e. taken up a skirt, the matter will be classed as a criminal offence.
Anyone with information is asked to contact British Transport Police on 0800 405040 or text 61016.