Long ago I realized that separating my personal/professional life online, more specifically, on Facebook, would be next to impossible. I made the conscious choice to just let those lines blur. I don’t maintain separate profile pages for my “professional” networks and my “personal” networks. They are one in the same and I manage them with privacy controls and lists.
Among several more personal traits that I sprinkle into my online persona is the fact that I’m a mom. However, while I’m comfortable with the blurring of my professional and personal life, I am incredibly uncomfortable with where that line blurs with respect to my children.
I created a little set of rules for myself that included things like:
I’ll talk about my 2yo and my 5yo online, but never say their names.
I’ll post the occasional holiday or big milestone photo with my entire network, but for the most part, only family gets to access photos.
I’ll never post a picture of someone else’s kid online.
I don’t have entirely clear reasoning behind these “rules,” but it’s what makes me feel comfortable and it has been working for me. But now, I’m realizing that the world around these rules has become very blurry and that I might be too far in to this world to regain the control that I wish I had.
Please, folks…talk me back from the ledge.
What changed in all of this? It’s really a combination of the changes Facebook announced after F8 such as timeline and real-time newsticker combined with the reality that, as my kids get older, they are involved in more activities and more people/organizations are apt to share photos or posts about them on Facebook.
What happens when an extracurricular organization my kids belong to shares pictures of students to their public Facebook Page? (It happened last month.) This photo can be shared, commented on and downloaded by anyone. ANYONE.
I am losing control, and the lack of control concerns me. A lot. And those concerns range in severity, from minor violations of my pre-defined “rules” to that of actually worrying about my kids’ on and offline safety.
Now, with this particular occurrence, I’m not terribly worried about someone stalking, kidnapping or assaulting my children, but as a mom, I can’t ignore the danger of pedophilia and how easy the internet has made it for these criminals to shop for online and offline opportunities to victimize children. The recent trial over the situation that occurred at Penn State remind us that pedophiles will (and do) create elaborate means to having access to children and that bystanders have an obligation to take charge.
- Transferring this to Facebook, public pictures of children can become a shopping mall of potential victims, on and offline.
- There are instances of parents finding their children’s photos being used on Craigslist in adoption scams.
- It’s safe to assume that pedophiles also create their own secret libraries of photos that they pulled from public posts.
- When posted photos can be tied to a particular geographic location, it’s a prime resource for potential abduction.
While I think it’s fair to say that all parents should have these concerns (and if they saw Facebook from the vantage point that I do, probably would), the reality is, most do not. The average, casual Facebook user has a friend network of people they know quite personally, and likely share their kids photos frequently and willingly.
Among these users, there seems to be a level of perceived “trust” in Facebook as a social network:
- It’s not “the Internet” or a public website. It’s a “closed” social group.
- Only my “friends” or, “friends of my friends” can see what I’m doing here.
- Lists? Those things are annoying. I’m not going to bother with them.
- Even if a stranger did see something of mine, what’s the big deal? Why would anyone care about a picture or post about someone they don’t know, anyway?
As an advocate of social media, the last thing I want to do is scare people from it or judge how they choose to use it. But the reality that I study things like privacy issues and am inundated with information about the darker sides of these platforms, so I sit in a bit of an unusual place when it comes to being both a mom and a heavy user of social media.
This brings me back to my dilemma…What do I do? If you’re reading this post, it’s likely that you’ve encountered or at least considered these same concerns. What do you do?
- Was I naive to think I could have some control over personal privacy and that of my children?
- Do I have a responsibility to explain to others (especially organizations to which my kids belong) the implications of posting public photos of children?
- Am I being paranoid about my perceived consequences?
Please, weigh in and share your thoughts in the comments. Let’s discuss.