When my son was born, I called my family and emailed
pictures. Embedded in the email was a small request, “Please don’t post
pictures on social media until we say so.” It wasn’t because we were trying to
control which pictures of his little gooey, red body got out, we merely wanted
to personally tell all family members before making a mass announcement.
It didn’t work. My sister posted a picture moments after
receiving the email. I called her and texted her to take it down, but it was
too late. My sister-in-law had seen (we hadn’t called her yet) and so had a few
aunts and uncles.
Baby pictures have become a new touchpoint in the mommy
wars. Get five parents in a room and you
will have at least seven different perspectives on when and how and what baby
pictures should be shared. But for all of our opinions, exerting control over
our child’s pictures may be a fool’s errand.
On Slate, Priya Kumar, writes about how parents have little
control over their infant’s
digital footprint. Much like those pictures of my son, Kumar notes, that
information about children is often disseminated through friends, family
members and acquaintances, despite our best wishes. Kumar notes, “But one thing
is clear: Control is no longer an effective paradigm to evaluate the
relationship between privacy and information. When your baby pictures appear on
Instagram, Dropbox, Gmail and Grandma’s phone, who really controls them? The
terms of service and privacy policies that govern these tools evolve
constantly, and absolute control over information is impossible, even for experts.
Not to mention that newborns have no control over their pictures being taken in
the first place.”
I couldn’t control how the pictures were shared or who saw them. But should I?
I am fairly liberal about pictures of my children, but even
I have limits on the pictures I share and who sees them. Yes, I use pictures of
my children on my blog, but they are carefully selected with input from my
husband, I’ve cut back on FB pictures and my Instagram is private. If you
Google my kid’s names, you will not see their faces or even links back to my
writing. I’ve done this because I’ve seen people I know have pictures of their
children disseminated online in not very flattering ways. And when my children
get older, yes, I do worry about what their peers will find when they Google
them. So, I get squeamish when someone else takes a picture and it pops up on
Recently, at a pumpkin patch, my daughter befriended some sixth
graders in a corn maze. I let them play until the older girls whipped out their
phones to take pictures of my daughter. I kindly asked them to stop and
suggested that they just ask next time. They seemed irritated and my
3-year-old told me in no uncertain terms that it was OK, but she is 3, she thinks chewing sticks is OK. On the one hand, I get it. This is
how kids are. Digital is their life. They know no better. But on the other
hand, this is my kid. I didn’t know these girls. I couldn’t control how the pictures were
shared or who saw them. But should I?
Will it really be such a big deal in 10 years? Won’t all kids have dirt about them on the Internet?
I honestly don’t know. Hand wringing about pictures of
children online is short-sighted because in 10 years, almost all of our
children will have pictures disseminated online. And doomsday picture prophets
overstate the longevity of the Internet. I had a blog back when I was 18 that
was fairly popular (more popular than my current blog, that’s for sure). I shut
that site down when I was 20 because I was getting creepy emails and I didn’t
know how to deal with that. There is no trace of that blog online. The Internet
only seems to remember if you are important.
Also, most of my children’s peers have parents writing
ridiculous blog posts and Facebook statuses and Tweets. So, will it really be
such a big deal in 10 years? Won’t all kids have dirt about them on the Internet? Does that necessarily make it OK? And where is the line?
Slate article, Kumar gives example after example of parents trying and failing
to exert control over their children’s images online—sometimes to ridiculous
degrees, like the mother who won’t post pictures of her child crying because
she wants to curate the image of him as a “happy” child or the mother who took
down a picture of her child eating a breadstick because she didn’t want it to
seem “sexually suggestive.”
One thing is for certain, in 10 years, no matter what we do
our children are going to resent us for something. In my case, I just hope it’s
not for violating their privacy or leaving a digital legacy that they don’t
want to receive.