The articles all start the same. A parent receives a frenzied call or text from a friend who has spotted her child in an ad for something suggestive, sexual, inappropriate. This isn’t a case of a photograph being misplaced. It is stolen in plain sight from an open source online.
Each time I read one of these articles, I cringe and go back to check the privacy settings on my social media accounts. Is this a knee-jerk reaction? Maybe, but why would I risk it? The tipping point for me was in reading the words of a parent who questioned the act of posting copious photos online. He pondered why a child needed this virtual presence in the first place. Had the child requested it? Was explicit permission given by this minor to post things that create an online persona to a wild and unruly audience? Could the content be potentially embarrassing to this child when he’s older? It makes you wonder…is it ethical to create profiles and an online presence for a child who either has not consented or lacks the maturity to understand the implications of this?
My daughter is now six-years-old. Her birth was announced on Facebook. I posted plenty of pictures of her toddling self (until I decided to remove most of them.) I asked family to do the same, and a private Facebook group was created for us to share news and photos. But occasionally I get that nagging feeling of “Post it, or it didn’t happen”…like my children have existed less to others since they and their adventures haven’t been posted up online.
After taking a short break from Facebook in December, I realized that Facebook is a daily ritual and addiction for me and for many other people. Reading a news feed helped me to feel integrated into my communities somehow…even if I hadn’t established any sort of one-to-one contact. This was vital to staying sane when my children were young. I didn’t have the time, energy, or willpower to socialize often with adults when my children were in diapers. Facebook helped me to feel part of something bigger. Not only could I contact my adult friends, I could show them what I’d been up to and whom I’d been raising. Pictures at the zoo and the park and the bouncy castles confirmed that I was a functional mother who was doing her job to get her kids out of pajamas and into the world…well, that pulled the wool over their eyes now, didn’t it? The more time I was posting, the less time I was actually socializing face-to-face…with adults or my own kids.
Now that both of my children are entering school age I am holding a new can of virtual worms. There are smartphones at every assembly and each school event. I signed school forms at the beginning of the year indicating that I did not want our address in a school directory nor did I provide permission for my daughter to be photographed by staff from the school district. There was no mention of basic codes of behavior on handling information or photographs of other people’s children, and no one seems to mind.
I politely asked a fellow parent to not distribute the address for a photo share site with extended relatives when I was still getting to know the parents themselves. Soon after, I was mistakingly added to a similar-styled photo site of preschool-aged children. I asked to be removed and was promptly added the following year to their next group. I had to contact the photo site numerous times to remove me from this group of which I had no affiliation to, and still the representative said that there was no way they could guarantee that this mother would not add me again the following year. I had to basically harass the rep into contacting this woman to alert her that I did not want to be added in the future, and I had those children’s confidentiality in mind.
Managing technology is a dance. Sadly, it is often a clumsy trot where people are constantly getting their toes stepped on. I hope we can all remember that our children have smaller toes…