I’ve always been very comfortable with my online presence. I grew up posting my deepest, most embarrassing inner thoughts on Xanga, my worst attempts at death metal songs on MySpace, and my personal photos and undeclared major on TheFacebook.com. But now that I’m a parent, the question arises: is it okay to post pictures of my kids on the internet?
I’ve gone back and forth on this topic for the last five years or so, so I was glad when one of my favorite podcasts tackled the subject. It was covered on a recent episode of WNYC’s Note to Self (formerly known as “New Tech City”).
Note to Self has a listener mailbag installment, and in this one, a listener asked the question:
“I was wondering if it’s right of me to just blindly post pic after pic of my 3-year-old’s entire life all over social media. Should I start deleting every pic until he’s old enough to give consent? Or is this just what it’s like to grow up in a digital world?”
To answer the listener’s question, the host Manoush Zomorodi assembled a pretty excellent panel of herself, her executive producer Jen Poyant, and Hillary Frank of the Longest Shortest Time fame. The three came to the table with varying degrees of OK-ness regarding posting pictures of kids online.
Manoush, having a pretty public-facing career, posts nothing. She separates her public persona from her personal one, and she doesn’t really have the latter online.
Jen, a single mom, posts prolifically to share her life—and her child’s life—with her family and friends who might not get to enjoy a glimpse into her daughter’s day-to-day otherwise. I liked her rationale.
Hillary posts judiciously, usually only side angles and drawings, nothing identifiable.
Manoush, Jen, and Hillary essay their approaches which result in a satisfying, yet inconclusive discussion—there is no obvious right answer. But there are some very valid concerns about consent and how a child might feel about being among the 92 percent of children in the U.S. who have a digital presence by the time they turn two.
My personal take:
I’ve had these concerns myself. My private Facebook and Instagram feeds are pretty much exclusively pictures of my kids and my breakfasts. I never asked either if it was okay, and even so, I’m sure neither my kids nor my breakfasts would fully understand the implications of posting something indelibly on the internet for friends, family, and the NSA to peruse for an unbounded amount of time.
I wonder: What if my son turns 13 and he decides that he wants to scrub all the hundreds of pictures I’ve posted of him to social media from existence? Will he have that ability? Will I have the ability?
Right now, I’d like to think so. I can “delete” my Facebook and Instagram accounts. But as we know, not even pictures on Snapchat are as ephemeral and revocable as we intend them to be. I know that data is hard to squelch.
Still, I’d like to take a good faith approach to posting pictures online. Yes, someone could hack into Facebook or Instagram and aggregate all the pictures posted there and do…something with them? It’s also true that someone could break into my house and steal all my photo albums. It’s also true that someone could take a picture of me and my kids on their phone while we’re walking down the street.
There’s a certain degree of futility when it comes to trying to control your image out in the world. I’m not saying that I am ready to start buying banner ads featuring pictures of my son sitting on the toilet. What I’m saying is that yes, there are risks, but the reasons to share pictures with your family and friends, particularly those who live hundreds of miles away, are more compelling than the countless ways that those images could be compromised.
Maybe in 10 years my son will loathe me for posting a video of him dancing and singing in his pajamas to Taylor Swift. But he might also loathe me for telling a hilarious, yet embarrassing story about him to his extended family at Thanksgiving.
If he sticks around with me and his mom long enough, he’s bound to be mortified on a regular basis. I think that’s par for the course. Social media is how we share our lives now, and withholding these joyful, funny, or meaningful moments with the loved ones who want to feel a connection with his life would be as ludicrous as pleading the fifth around the holiday dinner table.
“So, how’s the kid?”
“I’ll tell you when he’s 18 years old and can give consent.”
Anyway, give the Note to Self podcast a listen. It’s a good one. And then let us know your opinion on this issue in the comments below. I’m interested!