Should I upload photos of my children? These are factors to consider

When Laney Griner took her 11-month-old son to the beach in 2007, she was hoping to capture a healthy moment: her boyfriend about to put a handful of sand in her mouth. She took a picture. She uploaded the photo to her Flickr account.

Two years later, the photo had taken on a life of its own. The image was snatched from Griner’s control, with his fist clenched and his son’s focused gaze becoming a shortcut for that feeling when you make a deal or buy expensive shoes. It had become a meme. Legions of Internet users would end up knowing Griner’s son only as the “Success Kid”.

Many parents create a digital fingerprint for their children from the very first post of their baby’s ultrasound. Certain details, like where the child goes to school, their birthday or other identifying information, can be used to tap into, experts advise. The pragmatic parent, on the other hand, advises against posting full names, school reports or any kind of nudity of children, as these can be harmful in the wrong hands. But when a random image could go viral, new questions also emerge at the intersection of ethics, privacy and identity, forcing parents to question whether even posts that seem harmless really are. .

Parents often use social media to “showcase their identity” – a phenomenon that everyone commits to through the clothes we wear or the car we drive; we are always, consciously or not, presenting an image to the world. And as our social lives evolve into digital spaces, parents have turned to Facebook and Instagram to tell the world about their children. “They need to be able to do this for their own psychological well-being,” says Jordan Shapiro, principal investigator at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. And certainly some messages are harmless.

Celebrating a child’s kindergarten graduation, for example, is an unproblematic example of ‘sharing,’ a term coined in 2012 to describe when parents share updates and graphics about their children in line. There may be risks associated with sharing, such as allowing embarrassing times to remain accessible or providing credentials to potential wrongdoers.

Responsible engagement means finding a balance between expressing parental identity and preserving the child’s privacy. Experts advise using common sense, starting with children’s opinions and feelings early on.

“Make sure what you post is not public. Make sure you only share with a group of close friends, ”adds Titania Jordan, managing director of online security firm Bark Technologies, which recommends tightening privacy settings. “Trust your friends. Trust the loved ones. And even then, unfortunately, most child abuse occurs through people the family knows, so be on your guard. ”

Another concern is when sharing becomes over-sharing. Phoebe Maltz Bovy, writing for The Atlantic in 2013, defined over-sharing as having two components: identifiable information and the ambition to reach mass audiences. Consider The Holderness Family, a YouTube juggernaut with nearly 700,000 subscribers that posts family-centric content. “I love their videos,” admits Angela Wentz Faulconer, professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University. She considers them to be fun and harmless, even if they meet the criteria for over-sharing.

“But, of course, we only see what they present to us,” she adds. “We don’t know what their kids are saying behind the scenes or what the long term impacts of being filmed all the time are.”

Now consider a more painful example: parents using social media to shame their children. Does a parent have the right to permanently embarrass their child in this way?

Faulconer isn’t sure, but she says people should at least have some control over their personal information. “The internet challenges this basic idea,” she says. Her research focuses on medical ethics and, from within this world, she points to an instructive theory known as the “right of the child to an open future”. The idea is that children have certain rights which must be “preserved for the child until he is an adult”.

Social media amplifies content in a way that makes it more accessible than any other content before it. Combined with a Big Tech business model that rewards engaging content with cash and social currency, it’s worth considering whether a parent’s inherent motivation to pursue a child’s best interests may be. corrupted by the incentive to share too much.

The rewards can certainly be substantial and often seem harmless. The Griners, for example, turned “Success Kid” fame into an appearance at a comic book-style event for Internet stars and put the original “Success Kid” image up for sale earlier this year. year as a non-fungible token. It sold at auction for over $ 41,000.

This is nothing compared to Zöe Roth, better known as “Disaster Girl,” who sold the memorable 4-year-old photo of herself in front of a burning house earlier this year for $ 500,000.

But perhaps the dilemma is best summed up by Jessica Curry Morton and her daughter Parker.

During a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in 2018, a passerby randomly took a photo of 2-year-old Parker, marveling at the portrait of Michelle Obama. The next day, Jessica’s close friends texted her, all with the same question, “Is this Parker?” They had attached a photo of a little girl in a pink jacket and rain boots looking at Michelle Obama’s portrait.

Yes, it was Parker. But Jessica had not posted this photo. In fact, she had a reputation for never sharing anything about her children online. So when she saw the photo go viral, her first reaction was fear, then anger.

“A layer of privacy that I wanted to maintain for my child has just been stolen from me,” she says.

Within a week, however, Michelle Obama made contact and invited Parker to come meet her. Parker and Jessica also co-wrote a children’s book on the day, which sold over 100,000 copies and made Parker the New York Times’ youngest best-selling author. They’re releasing a sequel in November.

At first, Jessica was stuck in an accidental paradox: She didn’t want to exploit her daughter for money and attention, but she also didn’t want to close the door on opportunities like meeting the First Lady of the period or share its charming history. with the world. So she talked to her daughter – as much as can be done when talking to a 2 year old about issues so much bigger than them – who was much more enthusiastic than she about the TV appearances and interviews. She therefore accepted it, despite her reservations.

“I didn’t want it to go viral,” she says. “I wanted her to be her own person. … There is just something so sacred about it.

Her experience once again illustrates the fundamental tension of sharing: how to balance the push and pull between a parent’s sharing impulse and a child’s intimacy – especially when the child is too young to understand this. that is intimacy.

“That’s a very good question,” admits Sarah Coyne, associate director of BYU’s School of Family Life, “and we don’t have concrete answers.

This story appears in the November issue of Déseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.

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