Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Think it over

I am now going to be one of those people who uses the tragedy at the Boston Marathon to pursue my own agenda.

This particular agenda is protecting one's privacy on the internet.

Earlier today I was reading an article about Martin Richard, the eight-year-old boy who was killed at the marathon yesterday. His mother and sister were severely injured at the same time, and Martin's father released a statement today acknowledging the support he has received from friends and strangers and asking for privacy while his family grieves and recovers. This is not the article I was reading at the time, but it includes the statement.

At the bottom of the article I was reading (which I can't locate now) was a series of pictures. At first, I assumed they were pictures that had been released by the family along with the public statement, but after scrolling through a few--one of Martin holding a sign asking for peace, one of his family posing, and a third that looked like it might have been from Communion or a similar ceremony, I started to get a creepy feeling that I was looking at family photos. And then I noticed that the credits on the bottom of the pictures were not to photographers or the family, but to Facebook and Twitter.

I stopped looking at the pictures.

I don't know how Mr. Richard feels about these pictures being public. After all, I saw nothing compromising, just the kind of photos we all have of our kids and families. The three pictures I saw were all posed, with the subjects looking at the camera. Maybe these were the pictures Mr. Richard would have chosen to give to the press. There's no reason why they shouldn't be.

But did he choose them? Or were they taken?

When we post pictures on Facebook and Twitter, they no longer belong to us. They become the property of Facebook and Twitter. In many cases, those photos are searchable on Google. So if one of us should suddenly become the subject of a news story, our photos, being part of the public record, are fair game for the press.

We all worry about our young friends and relatives who post photos that are compromising--of drinking or risky behavior or inappropriate dress--but we often don't think about the pictures we post of our minor children, and what may happen in the future.

That cute picture of your baby in the bathtub? Visible to future high school boyfriends. That post about your high schooler's poor behavior? Open to college admissions. The one where you talk about getting drunk because your kids are driving you crazy? Available to your ex in divorce court.

Now, I have taken a strong line on this personally. I don't use names on this blog because I don't want anyone to be Google-able. Sure, if you know anything about searching, you can find out who I am. I'm not trying to keep my identity totally secret. But there are a few steps you have to take between reading this blog and finding Hopper or Boo. If you Google one of their names, this blog will not come up.

On Facebook, I do use Hopper's name, because he is an adult, he's on Facebook himself, and he sees what I post. If he wants me to remove a post about him or a picture of him, he'll ask me to do so.  But I don't use Boo's name or her picture. Not ever.

There are a few reasons for this. One is that I don't know everyone I'm friends with on Facebook. Oh, I did know them all at some point, but how do I know that guy I went to elementary school with isn't a pedophile? I don't.

The other is a bit more rational. Boo cannot consent to having her picture on Facebook. She's not legally able to because she's a child. And she can't fully understand the implications of posting pictures of herself. The internet is forever, and I don't want her pictures to be available to strangers because, although my family is currently pretty anonymous and uninteresting to the world at large, I don't know what may happen in the future. I also don't know what may be embarrassing to a teenager in a few years.

Now, I believe in a parent's right to embarrass her child, but only on purpose. That is to say, if she chooses to be embarrassed by my choices about me, that's her problem. I can't control that and I'm not going to change who I am because a teenager decides that comfortable shoes aren't cool. But she shouldn't have to be embarrassed by old pictures of herself on the internet. I reserve the right to show those pictures to anyone I want in the privacy of my home, but I don't have the right to give those pictures a life of their own that is out of my control.

So please, before you post that baby picture (or that sonogram) please think about whether you really want it to live on the internet forever. Because it will. Forever. Available to everyone.

Just think about it.

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