When my daughter was born, I emailed the details of her birth accompanied by a few pictures. I explained that DH and I didn’t want photos of her to be uploaded to any form of social media, including Facebook. For years I’ve cringed at how many photos parents willingly share of their children online — especially when they use their kid’s photo as their Facebook profile photo — and now that I have a kid of my own, these feelings are heightened.
Each to their own, I suppose. I try not to be judgmental and acknowledge DH and I are in a small minority of people who feel this way. (Point in fact, I don’t even refer to my husband by his initial, preferring the more generic DH, aka “Dear Husband.”)
Most of our friends and family don’t understand our wishes but have respected them. A few have even made snarky comments — I suppose they think we’re being uptight control freaks. We haven’t felt the need to explain why to anyone and no one has asked. Surely “my kid, my rules” should suffice.
So why do I care?
The main reason is because my husband has a job where it would be prudent to have nothing about his family posted online.
But there are other considerations.
My not sharing is not out of fear of paedophiles. Frankly, I think there’s a greater chance of that happening in person in my city than randomly online. And although it would piss me off to discover that my teen’s image had been poached for a marketing campaign, there’s plenty of time before I need worry about that. (More plausible is that my too-young-to-be-vaccinated baby catches measles during the current outbreak here in California, but that hasn’t stopped me taking her out in public.)
I agree with those parents who believe that, ethically, it is not for them to decide how large their children’s digital footprint is, particularly when we don’t know where the future of technology is going. I think that registering a URL and usernames on various forms of social media is a bit drastic, but I do understand wanting to try to control how and when one’s children’s data is shared.
Because, husband’s profession aside, a large part of me is troubled by facial recognition technology. Here in the U.S., Facebook suggests names when you tag people in photos with uncanny accuracy. How do we know where this will lead us? What are the implications of this five or ten or twenty years from now?
Not to mention, what about asking first? Don’t get me wrong: I love social media and use it every day. I will also admit there’s a tiny part of me that enjoys the kind comments about how cute my daughter is. It was a struggle to have her and I enjoy showing her off. However, it bothers me that we have become so desensitized to the idea of one’s own privacy that we are oblivious to the notion that someone else might not want something about them (or their young family) shared online. When it comes to other people’s children, we often pause to think about what might be considered appropriate in their family (Is this child allowed sugar? How do I respond if they ask about the birds and the bees?) so why not about sharing details of other people’s children online?
A number of people have already referred to my daughter by her full name on Facebook. I am not comfortable with that either but have to pick and choose my battles.
The other day, my mother took a black and white photo of me breastfeeding my daughter and asked if she could upload it to Facebook. I agreed because you can’t see my baby’s face or her distinctive colouring. And while you could see part of my breast, it was tasteful and from a distance. But I put my foot down a few months ago when my father, excited grandpa-to-be, posted to his public fan page my daughter’s name and date of birth a few days before my scheduled caesarean. I asked him to remove the post but by that time dozens of strangers had seen it and Liked it. Growing up occasionally in the public eye meant I’ve seen my picture and read details of my parents’ divorce in the media — something which both thrilled and horrified me as a child — but I think it’s made me fiercely protective of my privacy and now, by extension, my daughter’s.
But I felt bad begrudging my dad his excitement at becoming a grandpa for the first time. Similarly, I was torn the other day when I asked my mother not to post any more pictures on Facebook. Like the rest of my family, she lives thousands of miles away from me, across a continent and an ocean. The last time we saw each other was 18 months ago and I don’t know when we will see each other next — but I do know that my daughter will have changed dramatically by then. Is it so terrible to allow a few photos of her on Facebook so her grandmother can show her off? Who am I do deny my parents that simple joy in this digital era?
Besides, Facebook isn’t the only organization to integrate facial recognition software. Google does too. Facebook might be a more visible way to share photos, but I don’t believe that emailing photos of my kid from my Gmail account — photos usually taken with my iPhone — somehow protects her from Google and Apple merging her real life with her digital identity. Then there’s Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat… the list is endless. And I believe that all these ‘free’ services have a price…
I just don’t know where to draw the line when not having digital photos is not an option. Even if I never emailed or uploaded a photo, chances are that the parents of my daughter’s future friends won’t feel as strongly as I do. Is it fair of me to request they not share a group photo that happens to include my kid in it? Will they make a point of excluding her from photos or videos because it’s easier? What about sharing a video of a school play on YouTube? Do I just throw my hands up in the air and say to hell with it?
I had hoped to solve this issue by sharing photos and videos via Lifecake.com— a service I pay $36 a year to host photos and videos which friends and family can access, ‘heart’, and comment. It’s like Facebook but without the data-mining. It has the added advantage that people who aren’t on Facebook are able to see them too. But it’s one more site that people now have to remember to sign in to. Facebook, as most of us know, is terribly convenient…
It seems to be an all or nothing digital world. Policing others’ social media accounts to ensure no photos of my kid have been uploaded would be a colossal waste of energy, and I neither have the time nor stamina. Besides, once uploaded, I believe the insidious damage of providing these mega networks with imaging and geotagging data has already been done.
Perhaps I need to adjust my comfort levels. I may be okay with an uploaded photo or video if the following criteria are met:
- You can’t see her full face;
- Her name isn’t included;
- There is no reference to her age or other identifying information.
Yes, I know I sound like a control freak. I wish I could be as relaxed as 95% of other parents seem to be when it comes to this stuff. But, just as I take precautions to shred mail containing my personal information, maybe it’s not a bad idea to take precautions to protect my family from present dangers and the unknown future of technology.
I realize I am fighting a battle I am unlikely to win, but I feel I need to make a stand. Because by letting others upload photos of my child without my permission, I am passively consenting something I don’t agree to in the first place.
Have you ever thought about this stuff? Do you share pictures of your kid/s online? Why or why not?