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The Online Baby Photo War

Photograph by Getty Images

There is a war going on online. One that pits brother against sister, mother against daughter, friend against friend. It’s brewing in your Facebook feeds one picture post of a chubby baby at a time. It’s a social media civil war, or as I like to call it, the war of parental aggression.

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The debate isn’t just among friends and family, it’s taken over the whole internet. Amy Webb argued on "Slate" that she would never name or post anything about her daughter online to protect her future anonymity. Meanwhile, Andrew Leonard, writing for "Salon," argued that all this doomsday talk about the privacy of our children is hypersensitive hand-wringing.

Maybe he is right. Or maybe Amy Webb is. I don’t know. The true test will be when our children are our age and how they handle the privacy of their own children. I imagine, though, the results will be as varied and complex as their parents.

Recently, I’ve been pulling back on posting pictures of my children online. I made my Instagram private and have set up some limits on what I say about them, especially my daughter, who is 3 now and probably doesn’t need me telling the Internet what she said about her “bagina” to her great-grandmother. (Although it was really hilarious.)

All over the Internet, we hear cries of “stop posting about your kids,” but when we do, parents get lauded and “liked.”

But as I’ve pulled back, I’ve been called out for it. One acquaintance, who I bumped into at the pool this summer, “joked” that I didn’t love my baby as much as my daughter because I hadn’t posted nearly as many pictures of him on Facebook. “Or maybe I love him more, because I’m more aware of privacy issues?” I said.

She snorted. “But I feel like I haven’t seen him at all.”

Two days later, in a phone call with my brother in college he said, “All you talk about is kids now. I love you, but it has to stop.”

The true test came when I didn’t post first day of school pictures. I didn’t realize how controversial that was until a family member texted me saying they were sad they didn’t see any pictures, and "Salon" writer, Hayley Kirschner, noted my refusal to do so in an article. The status update, where I explained why I wasn’t posting a picture, (baby eating dirt, daughter sporting giant bruise on her face and a bad attitude) got maybe 15 “likes” and comments of dismay. Sorry, Internet. But geez, back off.

A few days later, I posted a picture of my daughter at dance class, that picture got 50 likes in under an hour.

Now, I am confident woman. I truly believe that my self-esteem isn’t measured in “likes” on Facebook. But that contrast made me want to smack my head on my desk. All over the Internet, we hear cries of “stop posting about your kids,” but when we do, parents get lauded and “liked.” So, here is my solution to this whole mess: If you want to see fewer babies on the Internet, stop liking pictures of babies on the internet.

It’s hard to scroll past a picture of a baby (no matter how much he looks like Gorbachev) and not hit “like.” Not doing so makes me feel like a jerk. And yet, with each choice to click or not click, we tell Facebook what to show us. Facebook is no dummy. If you “Like” baby pictures on Facebook, well they are going to show you nothing but babies until you are sick of them.

We complain a lot about the negatives of social media, but besides participating in a gratitude meme or two, we do little to actively change the landscape.

In a story for "Wired," Mat Honan discussed what happened when he liked everything he saw on social media for two straight days. The change to his newsfeed was dramatic. His Facebook became a cavalcade of polarizing news stories and banal business pages. The experiment even impacted his friends’ feeds too. They reported seeing nothing but things he liked in their own feeds. His experiment highlights how social media is truly tailored to our whims and Likes. So, the best solution to weeding out those annoying baby pictures and parenting posts? Ignore them. Or better yet, hide them from your timeline.

We complain a lot about the negatives of social media, but besides participating in a gratitude meme or two, we do little to actively change the landscape. We’re so tied up in computer-generated relationships that we can’t conceive of not liking our second-cousin's picture of her Weird-Al looking toddler. But if we did, think of the freedom. So be the change you wish to see in your feed. Or you can just vaguely post about people irritating you. That works too.

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Our social media interactions should be authentic and free of obligation. If you don’t like my essay, well then, don’t “like” it. If you don’t think someone should post pictures of their kids naked on the internet, then unfriend them, block their feed or just don’t “like” it.

It’s such a simple solution, and yet could you do it?

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