motherhood

Social media baby: the ethical dilemma

January 4, 2017
baby social media

How many times have you opened social media to find you’ve been tagged in a photo that you wished you hadn’t?

I sometimes wonder how the babies of today will feel when they discover the internet. And specifically, their faces all over it.

As is boringly common these days, I share quite a lot of my life online. I have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and now, a blog, and although I like to think I don’t overshare (you’d let me know, right?!) I do tend to post pictures of what is going on in my life fairly regularly.

This is “normal” these days – we millennials are addicted to technology, after all. (I’ve just discovered I am A Millennial. For some reason this makes me feel shiny and new and down with the kids! Yup. Just ruined it, I know.)

I don’t really mind. Smartphones and social media are ubiquitous and I feel that, for as many downsides as there are to this constant state of connectivity, there are as many benefits: easier access to information and advice; an ability to form communities with like minded folk, sometimes even providing a creative outlet.

baby-zebra-sunsuit

Finding a balance and what you’re comfortable with sharing online is pretty crucial. It’s not that simple when you have children, though, and the ethics surrounding how much we share about them is one part of modern motherhood I wrangle with.

It’s become completely acceptable – expected, even – to share every detail of life online. Including when you get pregnant. An announcement with a scan photo is commonplace. It’s a really quick way to tell everyone, for one thing, and usually folk are so bursting with excitement that they want to share the picture, so I understand why.

I didn’t do this, because I felt weird about having pictures of my uterus online. I don’t know why, and now, my scan pictures are on my fridge, so anyone who comes into the kitchen can see them. I guess at the time I just felt protective of that little person before they were even here.

I had expected I would post loads of pictures to social media after he was born, and join the ranks of Total Baby Bores. It’s sort of standard behaviour – not that I’m keen to follow the crowd, but I could imagine I’d be as proud and besotted as most parents are and totally overshare. Instead, I became almost obsessive about the photos of my son that went on social media. Not because I only wanted the “best” pictures up – he was a new baby so they were all cute* but because it’s not my face and it’s not my choice.

Of course, I ended up sharing photos, because the joy of his little face overtook any reservations I had, and for other, usual reasons: I wanted to let family and friends who aren’t close by see him and hear what he was up to. My Facebook privacy settings are set to friends only, which helped me to feel ok about doing this.

Until Soren was about six months old, my previously public Instagram profile was private. I’ve always enjoyed the ability to find things and places through Instagram so, with a trip to Brunei on the horizon, I decided to open it back up, but not with the intention of sharing a load of baby pics. That, obviously, was short lived. Have you seen a baby in a Zebra sunsuit? And baby sized shades? How could you not want to share that level of cuteness?!

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

I have and do share pictures of him, but I’m very aware that each time I do, I’m potentially contributing to some future problem. At worst, I’m imagining some kind of Black Mirroresque facial recognition technology gone wrong, whereby my innocent sharing of pictures of him being cute results in his identity being stolen. And at best, he’s psychologically scarred for life.

I am joking, of course. But this moral dilemma – of how much of our children we share online – is one that niggles at me almost daily. I used to think about how I’d feel if, at some point in my childhood I’d discovered that pictures of me, smiling or pulling a silly face in the bath or at the pool or face covered in dinner, had been shared not only with my doting aunts or mum’s close friends, but with random strangers, online, for the world to see. I wouldn’t care now, as an adult, but I can think of plenty of periods in life – as an awkward pre-teen, or anxiety riddled twenty-something, that these public outings of personal moments might have been an issue.

I’m not sure that argument really applies, because while that wasn’t the norm for our generation, it is now, for my son’s. So perhaps because it is commonplace, and most children will grow up with their faces online, his generation won’t mind? I don’t know.

baby on camera.JPG

It’s not even just the pictures – I also feel conflicted about how much I say about him. Writing blog posts about how I feel as a mother is my choice; I’m comfortable with the information I share. I try to be respectful in everything I write about Soren, but part of the appeal of writing about and sharing our experiences is that they are honest. We find solidarity in the realities of life, and thus we necessarily offer up the not so great parts as well as the lovely ones.

In any case, his name, age and rough whereabouts in the world are out there, along with his face. I only hope that in the future he won’t mind me having done this.

I choose not to go into too much detail, partly because I feel it might be eye-meltingly boring to read about how many times he pooped that day, or the myriad reasons I was late (it probably wasn’t Soren’s fault, to be fair) but also because I don’t really feel it’s just my information to share. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy and take comfort in reading other folks’ more explicit accounts of parenting, though. I realise there may be some hypocrisy in this, and that’s why I’m finding it so hard to come to a conclusion about how I feel.

There are plenty of ways we can justify our actions to ourselves, but there are also some quite dark things to take into account: aside from the psychological impact of having your life played out on social media before you have any say in the matter, there’s also the issue of where those pictures and videos end up. I don’t want to go into that, particularly, other than to say there are some strange individuals online. Stealing baby pictures to pass off as your own is maybe on the less harmful end of the spectrum, but it’s still some creepy shit.

I’ve found this a really hard post to write, because I genuinely don’t know how I feel about the issue and I don’t want to come across as judgemental to anyone who does things differently. If you’ve considered things, and you’re comfortable, then more power to you.

On that lovely note, I’ll end. I’d love to hear your thoughts though.
* wrong. He definitely went through an ugly phase. Sorry, pal, but you did.

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  • Reply codeinfig January 4, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    the ethics of tagging seem to me to be very similar to the ethics of informing the stasi.

    this isnt intended as hyperbole– we have a lost generation, or two.

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