This morning I sat, staring at my flashing Facebook status bar, and considered posting a rant about my eldest son. The things he did at 3 a.m. The things he did at 7 a.m. It’s difficult processing it all, and as a writer my natural inclination is to write it.
But I didn’t. My personal Facebook page is pretty private. My only “friends” are actual friends and one or two people that I deal with professionally or friended for political reasons – but I block them from seeing a vast majority of my updates.
In the past, I’ve used Facebook as a place for support and friendship, just like hanging with my friends. But, the fact is that it isn’t “just like hanging with my friends.” It’s a public website and with their constantly changing terms of service and data safety issues, it doesn’t matter how protected your information is today, it can change tomorrow.
Basically, there is no expectation of privacy when you’re using the internet. None. Ever. And while that might be a fine risk for you to take with your own personal information, your child should not be subjected to such risk before he or she can understand or consider it.
LA blogger and parent of two, Jessica Gottlieb, has written extensively on the subject of children and privacy. “I have told my children that anything you put in writing is public. Always. This includes but is not limited to notes passed in class, emails, DMs, text messages and essays.”
But when it comes to parents posting children’s photos or info she says “most of these posts are facebook updates (as opposed to blogs) but they’re still posts about the kids and using the kids’ images…. because ya know… our kids are our property. Oh wait, they aren’t?”
And that’s where the trouble comes in. What we do with our own data is our choice, but what we do with our children’s data, including their photos, is something we need to consider even more than our own. I have an adult life, a career, a family, none of which was shaded by information I posted online. Our lives were built before the mass capacity for public sharing, and shaming. But our children’s lives will be molded by this. Corporations and even individuals will use whatever data they can mine about our children and their lives could well be seriously affected by it. Their information is their property. Not ours. And that includes their images.
It is easy to tell ourselves that the message we post to the internet forum for special needs kids in which we only use our child’s initials and our general location could never be traced back to us. But that’s a lie we tell ourselves to facilitate our ability to seek support. In all we do online, when we share information, there is an assumption of trust. Ironically, most of us are more concerned with sharing our address with a corporation that has strict privacy policies than we are with posting photos of our kids to a parenting website – or writing a public letter to Santa that shows any pedophile out there a picture of our children, their first name, and exactly what they can be promised to entice them into the creepy black van.
It’s easy to assume safety and trust, especially with networks such as Facebook where we are given a small amount of control over our privacy. But that control is only for today. Tomorrow it may change, but the information we’ve posted will not.
As Gottlieb writes, “your children (and all of us) will enter too much data. It’s what we do, it’s a mistake everyone makes.” I know it’s a mistake I’ve made. But it’s also a mistake you can stop making at any point. And it’s a mistake that you can at least partially erase. You can remove posts and photos from Facebook and delete messages from online forums. It may take a while, but if, like me, you suspect you may have made this mistake, it’s worth your time and your child’s future to do so.
And if you really need to rant, call a friend. If you want to share photos, print them and send them. Or even email them. There’s at least a little more privacy involved then. If you need support, find a local support group, call a 1-800 number, or read a self-help book. The world wide web does not actually hold all the answers. But it does hold, and keep, whatever you enter on it.
Dara Squires is a freelance writer and mom of three. You can contact her on facebook at www.facebook.com/readilyaparent