We have a birth plan. The bassinet is assembled. The freezer is stocked. Julio and I have checked off many of the items on our nesting to-do list. This weekend, we negotiated what our policy will be about sharing our daughter on social media.
A year ago, when we talked about the future, our position was firmly no pictures of her face on social media platforms. At all. We planned to send pictures to our families and friends, but not share them elsewhere. The first problem that I see with such a strict plan is how to navigate other people sharing your child online. I am not confrontational by nature, often to my own detriment. I have a hard time setting boundaries; it’s actually something I have been working on in the last two years. Julio has no problem telling people no, but I sometimes get nervous that he won’t do so softly enough. It’s complicated, right?
Now, we’re in a different camp. As the pandemic has made everyone feel more isolated, I have seen the happiness that sharing life moments has brought to people online. And we’re excited. We have yet to get a good look at this girl’s face in an ultrasound, so when she finally makes her big debut, well, Julio’s going to want to print postcards.
But, here’s the thing, there are so many problems that can stem from sharing images of children on social media. Put plainly, from most to least horrifying, they are: pedophiles, invasion of privacy, and the embarrassment factor. I want to explore each of these areas, but before I do, an important disclaimer: I am not coming at this from a place of judgment of you or your parenting decisions.
First, the pedophiles. If this sounds like an inflated threat to you, I recommend that you listen to the CBC podcast Hunting Warhead (trigger warning: child pornography and rape). This deeply upsetting series follows detectives and journalists as they try to catch the mastermind behind a ring of child pornography sites. One of the most shocking aspects of the series was how the users of these sites would take photos that may not seem at all sexual, download them, and circulate them. Like, your profile picture, which is publicly available. It’s chilling. And it escalates. Really, no image of your child that is not behind a privacy wall is safe. And even then, if you have 1,000 contacts on social media that you may or may not know well–how do you know that one of them is not involved in using and sharing child pornography? Having worked in a corrections setting, I can tell you, people who do such things are not branded with a scarlet letter.
Next, invasion of privacy. A baby does not have any idea of privacy, but around age five, children start to develop a sense of their own identity and with it a need for privacy. Psychologists worry that sharing too much about your child online can cause them to feel like they do not have control over this developing autonomy. Furthermore, Stacey Steinberg, an associate director for the Center on Children and Families at University of Florida Levin College of Law, points out that the digital content parents put out about their children can be tied to that child for years to come thanks to internet algorithms, face recognition technology, etc. Think about how protective we are of our own privacy online. Imagine that you had another person pumping tons of content about you onto the internet and you had no say or no control.
The more that the world moves online, the more we see the lasting impact a person’s digital footprint can have. Protecting a child’s digital presence could be even more important ten years from now. Fatherly explains how “sharenting” exposes children to “surveillance capitalism” which extracts as much data about them as it can before they can consent or opt out: “Sharenting tells them what your child looks like, when she was born, what she likes to do, when she hits her developmental milestones and more. These platforms pursue a business model predicated on knowing users – perhaps more deeply than they know themselves – and using that knowledge to their own ends.”
Finally, embarrassment. This one is tied closely to the previous point. Julio expects this girl to be the third Latina president of the United States someday, and we just can’t have something we posted when she was a child come back to embarrass her on her way to the top. So much that we think is cute or harmless could be considered embarrassing or shameful twenty years from now. We just don’t know. We don’t know what she might really regret us sharing about her life, so we are going to try to keep that digital footprint small until she can have a say. And then we will teach her about guarding her own privacy.
Again, I am not judging anyone’s choices. I myself have changed in this area. When she was young, I shared pictures of my sister. Later, when I thought about it more, I locked many of them down. Now, Julio and I have a decision to make in regards to this new person.
Here’s where we landed: no images of our daughter’s face on public-facing social media (including profile pictures and banner images). Period. Not on our accounts or anyone else’s. And when we do share, we will share sparingly. Honestly, to me, it feels like a compromise. And I know it’s going to be hard.