The type of photos posted to my Facebook profile changed dramatically when I became a stepfather a few years ago. Before that time, I was a freewheeling bachelor in my 20s. I had not a care in the world, compared to today, and I didn’t give much thought to what I posted about. As long as the text seemed witty or the image was artistic, I’d share it online.
Two kids later, things have changed. The kids are at the center of my daily life. I spend more time with them than anyone else. As someone who’s always carried a camera around, I take photos and videos of them almost daily doing and saying cute and funny things. I love collecting these memories to look back on as they get older.
But now I face a moral dilemma. Is it right for me to post pictures and information about my children on social media? Is it fair to them I create their digital existence long before they are old enough to consent to it?
To answer this question, I ask what motivates me to share in the first place? After some reflection, there are only two real reasons I can think of.
So my family can see the kids
Because I know people will like the post
Now, #1 is the big one to unpack. My family is spread all over Wisconsin, and as we get older, it gets harder and harder for everyone to get together. Thus sharing photos and stories of what the kids are up to is very appealing. I know my grandparents are especially always glad to see photos.
Let’s go a step further here and suppose we’ve already considered the potential harms of sharing personal information about our kids online. Maybe we’ve taken steps to reduce these threats. In such cases, Facebook would have you trust their privacy settings, wherein you can create sub-groups of people to share with, ideally shielding sensitive content from the public. Alternatively, you might consider using one of any number of other social media services, which promote much stricter privacy settings and are specifically engineered for family sharing, such as 23snaps.
But, here’s where #2 comes in. We are social creatures, and the whole point of social media is to be … social. So when we share to a small number of people, or use a private social media network like 23snaps, we’re actually taking away a powerful motivation — perhaps the most powerful motivation — for sharing in the first place: validation.
The more interaction a post gets, the more validated we feel as the person who posted it. When it comes to parenting, this is a big deal. Every parent wants some assurance they’re doing OK with raising their kids, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem, I argue, is the means.
Essentially, when we share photos of our kids on social media, we are exchanging images of them, of their life, for our own gain. We are exploiting our children for the little sugar rush of likes, shares, and comments we receive from our network. The more interaction a post gets, the higher the jolt of satisfaction.
Of course, this seems like a very negative view on a widely accepted practice in modern times. Our culture has essentially said this behavior is well within the realm of normal, but I counter that’s exactly what large tech companies behind these services would like us to believe. There’s a reason the apps are free.
Consider this: Facebook first started showing ads on its mobile app in 2012. Less than a year later, 20% of all ad spending went to mobile ads, according to a report by major ad platform Kenshoo.
Fast forward to 2017 and mobile ad revenue exploded to 88% of all advertising revenue for Facebook. That’s as reported in Forbes in late 2017. The company’s total revenues in 2018 sat at $55.8 billion, according to a Jan. 30 report by Business Insider.
I say again: there’s a reason the apps are free. They do not exist simply to make the world a better place and keep in touch with long-lost college friends, funny cats, and cute pictures of kids. They exist to make massive amounts of money.
The generation of kids growing up now face something no other generation has before them — a digital footprint from birth. Most of us have digital footprints no older than 10 or 15 years. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad my adolescence isn’t stored in the cloud.
Our kids deserve the chance to carve out their own identities. They deserve privacy and the ability to stumble and fall and get back up throughout their childhood without public documentation. And they deserve the truth about life, not a collection of curated and filtered images of themselves floating around on various third-party servers sitting in Sweden, Singapore, and hundreds of other places worldwide.