If you are a parent who loves to share photographs of your children on social media, you may want to take a moment before your hit the 'post' button the next time.
Last week, an Austrian teenager sued her parents for refusing to delete embarrassing baby pictures of her they had posted on Facebook over the last seven years. The 18-year-old, who lives in the southern Carinthia region of Austria, has complained that over 500 photographs of her exist online, thanks to her parents, who did not bother to seek her consent.
"They knew no shame and no limit — and didn't care whether it was a picture of me sitting on the toilet or lying naked in my cot — every stage was photographed and then made public," she said, according to media reports. The parents, who claim ownership and free use of the images since these were taken by them and had their own child as the subject, have resisted her requests to remove the photographs. In the event the court decides to rule against them, the parents may be heavily penalised under existing laws.
Most people, no matter which part of the world they live in, are familiar with such situations. Nearly all of us, with any degree of social media presence, have that friend who can't stop sharing photographs or videos of their bundle of joy — often literally so, wrapped in layers of clothing, or crawling away merrily, or running around clumsily. People are far less inhibited now, in more ways than we can keep pace with.
Like owning a passport and other forms of identification papers, having a social media presence to your name since birth may soon become a regular part of the drill of having and raising children.
Images of women giving birth at home are common on the Internet these days. Photographer Sally Mann, a compulsive documenter of her children's lives who often captured their most private moments — with little regard to their feelings, even in states of undress — has been controversial for her practice, long before social media became a fad. When her eldest child Emmett, who had been suffering from schizophrenia since his childhood, took his life at the age of 36, Mann created a body of work around him.
In less grim circumstances, parents continue to post photographs of their children well into the latter's teen years (as in the case above), by which time their subjects have lost their gurgling innocence, and when the sight of their baby faces smeared with drool may leave a deep and lasting sense of trauma. Thanks to the advent of Facebook Memories, which have assumed the sort of role family albums once played in our lives, fond remembrance of offspring continue well into a period when the act can turn into a source of irritation rather than endearment for the recipients of these affections.
I'm aware, as some of you may be, of people who have created Facebook accounts for their toddlers, presumably in the hope that their efforts will be appreciated by their children when they grow up and join the growing army of social media users. In turn, this generation, too, will be expected to pass on the baton to the one that follows it. Like owning a passport and other forms of identification papers, having a social media presence to your name since birth may soon become a regular part of the drill of having and raising children.
No less worrying, though hardly given equal attention to, is the matter of consent of the children who are the subjects of these photographs.
You may or may not be on social media, you may or may not be a parent, or have no desire to be one, but you can no longer be flippantly critical of the way people choose to conduct their cyber-lives. Not, at least, in this day and age when Facebook boasts of 1.13 billion daily active users, as per the average for June 2016.
Bringing up children, as this article argues, is an increasingly isolating experience for many, especially for those living in societies that have moved towards nuclear families. In such cases, when friends and relations may not be immediately present around parents, the Internet can become a platform to seek support and empathy. However, it can also turn into a bottomless pit of danger and misery, given the frequent incidence of child pornographers and identity thieves online.
No less worrying, though hardly given equal attention to, is the matter of consent of the children who are the subjects of these photographs. If we leave aside babies, even for children, whose cognitive faculties are sufficiently developed for adults to discuss such matters with them, the idea of consent may not be easy to grapple with.
Saying a simple yes or no to a photo being shared by their parents online now has implications that go far beyond the problem of being bullied in school.
Saying a simple yes or no to a photo being shared by their parents online now has implications that go far beyond the problem of being bullied in school. With companies scanning social media accounts of prospective employees, parents might be unwittingly compromising their children's privacy in professional spaces, apart from other spheres of their private lives. Privacy settings and related firewalls may control the degree of access others have to such contents, but it cannot undo the sense of hurt a young adult may feel by acts that were never meant to cause any harm.
By desisting from drawing children into their cyber-existence, parents may be also allowing the former the option of not being part of the heady dance of social media. Such a decision, in a sense, is a way of acknowledging children's right to choose silence over the endless chatter of Facebook or the mill of self-promotion called Twitter, to honour their preference for absence over the relentless preening on Instagram.
So the next time you feel the urge to turn your kid into a hashtag, post a picture of them in a moment you would hate to find yourself in, or chronicle an exploit of theirs that may make them cringe years later, pause for a moment and remind yourself that clicking a button is not a child's play. You will be doing yourself, others and, most of all, your children a world of good.
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