Consent and Online Privacy on Social Media, As I See It
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DON’T POST MY PHOTOS, PLEASE
I’ve been hurt recently by a serious of events that have proven that I cannot trust someone I should be able to trust with photos of my children. There are a lot of issues here, many unrelated to privacy & social media, but it has also brought up many discussions among close family & friends over posting photos of children online. You may have noticed a lot of posts disappearing from Remodelicious lately, and it is all related to these issues.
Only a few people very close to me have been privileged to the long, heartbreaking months leading up to my pregnancy with my older child. Some are open about these struggles, but it is not something I’ve ever wanted to share with the world. Perhaps that will change at a later date, but for now, it’s important to understand that the pride I have in my children is something I never could have imagined pre-motherhood. I always knew that I wanted to be a mother, and I knew that it would be magical. I never could have imagined or expected the overwhelming feelings that overcame me when I first held and gazed into my first child’s sweet eyes. I wanted to shout from every rooftop of every corner of the world and share the love like none I had ever felt before the moment I became a mother. Honestly, I wish everyone on Earth could experience that love. The world would without a doubt be a better place.
THE RACE TO SHARE
Like many new parents, I took to social media to share with, what at that time, was a mix of mostly friends I saw in real life with a few high school friends, coworkers, and a family member or two. I took so much pride in that tiny baby that I couldn’t help myself.
Much to my surprise, I had been beaten to the announcement of the birth of my child. Despite our best efforts to have a private family moment by not even telling anyone I was in labor (save my parents, who I work with and were rapid dialing me out of concern when I wasn’t answering), despite not making the announcement to extended family (knowing someone in particular would be so overcome with excitement that our privacy would not be respected), when I logged on to Facebook, there was my newborn child. Not even hours old, there she was in all of her naked glory, full name, birth date, and stats posted publicly for all to see. If I hadn’t been so high on the best day of my life, it would not have been pretty. Despite my euphoria, I was heartbroken. It was an outright invasion, embarrassment, and a level of disrespect that I had not yet known. For the record, despite our pleads, that photo remained public for 5.5 years. No one other than the parents should be the first to post about the birth of a child without explicit permission. Just. Don’t. Do it. It’s hurtful and it ruins relationships when you post someone else’s big news.
“Of course I didn’t tell you, just like
I wouldn’t have told you if we lived
in a different time and there was
no such thing as the internet.”
I wish I could say that things had improved by child #2, but hours after she was born, I received congratulations from people who I am not close with saying “congratulations on the baby, didn’t know you were pregnant?”. Of course I didn’t tell you, just like I wouldn’t have told you if we lived in a different time and there was no such thing as the internet.
YOU CAN’T TRUST PRIVACY SETTINGS
I’m to blame as well. It was 2010 & 2011 and Facebook truly felt safe. When I initially signed up in 2004, it was for students only and every one of my Facebook friends was a real life friend – someone I would welcome into my home at any time and who I could call whenever I needed anything. By 2010, I had added a few acquaintances, high school friend that I had not kept up with (but would like to), a few family members, and a couple close coworkers. Still all people I had shared real life interactions with, but not all on such a close level.
Still, I had enough trust in the site to post photos of my babies. I was so proud. I wanted to share these amazing little people with the world! Plus, Facebook now had privacy settings so I could control who was seeing my stuff, right? So I shared, and occasionally overshared, with the select group of people who I felt I could trust. The trouble was, I was also trusting Facebook. And friends of my friends who weren’t always so selective with their friends and privacy settings.
Then one day, I had yet another friend request from a creepy man accompanied by a creepy message. It happens, right? Weirdos trolling Facebook… you just hit “ignore”, right? Well, this one caught my attention. Why? His cover photo was a photo of my sweet babies taken by me and shared only with friends. I checked and double-checked. Despite the privacy settings that Facebook markets as secure, my photo was stolen and on some random profile of a man (possible a pedophile?!) that I didn’t know. It really opened my eyes. It was such a humbling invasion. He might as well have broken into my home and stolen the photo out if it’s real-life frame.
I spent many of the following nights deleting photo after photo. You may not notice until you need it that you cannot mass-delete photos or posts on Facebook. They have to be deleted one-by-one. It’s tedious. It’s time consuming. It takes serious dedication. Once you think you’ve deleted everything, refresh. Remember Facebook’s fancy algorithms that decide what you want to see? They make it seem like you’ve deleted everything when you haven’t. Keep deleting! While I spend night upon night deleting photos, it really made me wonder why Facebook makes it so difficult. They are a sophisticated company with some of the world’s best tech leaders. There’s a reason they want all of that data to stay on Facebook.
The fact is, we have no idea how the
photos and other details we post “among
friends” will be used in the years to come.
NOT FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
We know that currently, all of your photos, captions, status updates, link shares, comments, etc are used to compile information about you to use for marketing. It’s how they deliver relevant-to-you ads in your feed and sidebar. This all feels very harmless to us. Yes, I’d much rather see an ad for a cute kids boutique than a shovel supply shop. Thank you for noticing, Facebook. But think about how long ago you joined Facebook. 2 years ago? 5? 10? Then think about how much Facebook has evolved in the relatively short time that you’ve joined. In 2004, we were “poking” each other. In 2008 we started posting cat meme’s to each other’s walls. It’s only fairly recently that Facebook has become the data mining monster that it is. It’s great for delivering targeted marketing, for now. What will be the next step with all of the facial recognition and audio-interpreting features that are in their infancy. The fact is, we have no idea how the photos and other details we post “among friends” will be used in the years to come. And what happens if you are incapacitated or even die and there is no one to delete your profile containing photos and details of your loved ones?
If you’re sharing a photo online with anyone
who you would not trust in an emergency
with your family, you should not be sharing
photos with them. These are not people
who you would invite into your
home to share family albums with.
It’s not just Facebook you have to worry about. There’s no such thing as “300 of your closest friends”. No one has an inner circle as large as their Facebook friends list. No one. Bob at the office seems perfectly pleasant at work. You enjoy his company at lunch on occasion and he talks about his own children. However, you’re really not that close. You really have no idea what he does or the skeletons his has in his closet. Maybe Bob is the one who shared the photo of my babies with his network of creeps? There’s no way to trace these things. Once your post is out there, it’s out there forever, cached away in the internet’s backup repositories along with the personal collection of anyone who downloaded it or took a screenshot. If you’re sharing a photo online with anyone who you would not trust in an emergency with your family, you should not be sharing photos with them. These are not people who you would invite into your home to share family albums with. There are people in your Facebook friend’s list, including Facebook itself (and exactly who is behind the curtains at Facebook?), whom you would not trust with personal family details in real life.
If they aren’t in your inner circle, why are you sharing family photos with them? Especially digital copies which can be duplicated, replicated, and redistributed with little effort.
There are awful people in the world. We know that. Haven’t we all heard the stories about little girls being lured just far enough away from their mothers at Target by other (enslaved) little girls so that they can be snatched and used for unspeakable acts for the profit of sick people. We’ve heard of stalkers using meta data from online photos to locate victims. There are horrible people out there. Why make it easy to prey on our children? If you make it easy for someone to prey on my children, you’ll hear about it. Even if it ruins our relationship. Even it it makes you hate me. You want to see a Mama Bear in action? Put my kids in danger. Always remember they are my children before they are your friends, extended family, or “like” magnets. If you can’t understand why I’m mad, try to put it in that perspective.
Photos have much more data that meets the eye. In addition to the image, there’s information on the camera that took it, it’s settings, and its location. Tag me in a picture saying “had a great time at your birthday party, happy birthday!” and you’ve just given anyone who can find the photo the GPS coordinates of my daughter along withheld innocent, beautiful little face. There are way too many messed up people in this world who would love to rip the innocence right off her face. How would you feel if you gave them access to her and something happened? Love the sentiment, would love it more if you emailed or texted it to me. These days, if you’re a child predator, you can literally shop online for victims. Don’t put an ad out for a child for them. Your photos are seen by more eyes than you think, more eyes than you think you are allowing. Just ask any privacy or security expert.
Then, there’s the whole issue of consent. We’ve been hearing about consent mostly in reference to rape. We seem to understand the violation when it comes to woman’s body. How are we not connecting consent to a child’s face, name, and other personal details being collected by ever-evolving data-mining monsters? A child has no real capacity to consent. They don’t understand concepts as complex and abstract as “the internet” and all of the repercussions that go along with consent to have an online presence. To be honest, nearly all adults don’t even really understand these things. Due to their age alone, my children have not given consent to be a part of your Facebook presence.
We seem to understand the violation
when it comes to woman’s body. How
are we not connecting consent to a
child’s face, name, and other personal
details being collected by ever-evolving
So if the child cannot consent, who’s has the authority to determine consent on behalf of the child? Just like medical consent and those long forms we sign before a child participates in a physical activity, it’s the right of the parent or legal guardian to determine the consent. Can a grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, etc medical authorizations? Program Participation? Other legal documents? No. It’s up to the parents to determine if and how a child has an online presence.
That’s a big responsibility these days. It takes a lot of getting informed and staying up-to-date. I made mistakes in the beginning with sharing and even over-sharing my children’s photos, quotes, and other details. I have since paid the price with my conscience and hours upon hours of deleting any trace I can find on the internet.
My children are my proudest achievement. I understand that other family members share this pride. Just because other parents, grandparents, friends, or relatives are posting photos of children online, it doesn’t make it okay. It’s up to each family to decide how internet and social media will be involved in their family’s lives. Some make misinformed decisions or think it’s okay “just because everyone is doing it”. You don’t want teens using that excuse to have sex or start smoking, so why are you using it to make the important decision of what to post online?
Don’t ever assume it’s okay to post a photo of anyone, especially not a child. In my peer group, we’re in the habit of saying “DON’T post that on Facebook” even though it should go without saying when it’s a less-than-flattering photo taken while you’re letting your hair down with friends. What changed everything for me was when Facebook went from being student only (you used to have to have a .edu email address to sign up!) to being a mixed bag. It truly used to be just friends – people you see in person on a regular basis and have an authentic relationship with. Then we started adding acquaintances along with family and coworkers. Have you ever decided to throw a birthday party for your best friend and invite the guy who sat next to her in Algebra, her boss, her great-aunt Sally, and her drinking buddies? Hell, no. We have different relationships with the different people we “socialize” with and call “friends” on Facebook.
THE EFFECT ON THE NEXT GENERATION
You wouldn’t want your sister to show up at work and show a picture of your “cute naked bum” to your boss or your college roommate to share an album of your “best night ever” in college with your mother. That’s exactly what sharing on Facebook does. What we post may seem relevant today, but I doubt our kids will feel the same when they look back and see what we posted. And remember, you can’t just “select all” and delete. Everything has to be deleted one at a time and even once you delete it, there is still a record in the background in the form of backups and in the data pulled from the post from names to facial recognition.
Let’s say you post just an average of 2 photos of your baby a week (and let’s face it, most of us post many more than that). Then your 18 year old comes home crying because bullies at school, or her crush, a college admissions officer, or per potential employer looked her up. Those photos from year ago have been taken way out of context (a lot can happen in 18 years!) and she is devastated. You try to right your wrong, but have over 1800 photos to delete one-by-one and screenshots & downloads have already sealed her fate.
If the internet is full of photos of you at
age 4 wearing 12 tutus or with a silly
hair-do, that’s what they will see no matter
how many athletic & academic awards
are to found on page 12 of the search results.
College admissions are tight already. Can you imagine how they will be in 2030? You’ll need to be top 10% of your top-tier school and have a squeaky-clean online presence. When they Google you, and they will, Admissions Officers had better see only your greatest awards and achievements posted on legitimate websites. If the internet is full of photos of you at age 4 wearing 12 tutus or with a silly hair-do, that’s what they will see no matter how many athletic & academic awards are to found on page 12 of the search results. Why? Facebook is a BEAST. It will out-rank your Spelling Bee & Swim Team results in Google every time.
Jobs. We all have one at some point, right? Employers are looking you up on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else you might pop up. They may not think that you are going to be able to keep confidential company information to yourself if you can’t help sharing 25 photos of your toddler with a bucket on their head. It doesn’t look good to you, and it won’t look good to bucket head’s potential boss either. Being “proficient in emptying the kitchen cabinets” is probably not on ever employer’s wish list. Again, it will beat the results you want employers to see. I promise Junior worked a lot harder to make NJHS than he did that day “Junior dressed himself today, isn’t he cute? Hahaha”.
A growing number of industries are using Facebook & Google to qualify people these days. I’m sure as heck not going to ruin my child’s chance of getting a loan on her first house. You’d better not be either. Think it’s not real? Ask around. I’m a Real Estate Broker full time. You call to ask about renting or buying a home I have listed? Before I ever make an appointment with you or show my clients your offer, I’ve looked you up. While I’m on the phone with you, I’m looking at your face either on your company’s website or in your Facebook pictures. Which would you rather I see? In Austin, we frequently have multiple offers on homes right after they’re listed. Who’s getting the house? Let’s get to know them a little better to see who we think is being honest about their ability to qualify for the loan.
“LIKE” AN ADDICTION
Likes are a dirty, filthy thing. Facebook got rid of the “dislike” button long ago because it was hurtful. How would you like it if you posted a new profile picture and someone disliked it. You wouldn’t post as much. Facebook collects less data. Offers less data to marketers, makes less money. Dislike button is history. The “like” button on the other hand… we’ve become addicted to it. Why did my picture only get 24 likes? I’d better try another. No, you’re addicted. Stop.
Getting “likes” is as addictive as any
drug and users will use friends and
family to get more without a thought.
Do you see these posts saying “Happy Birthday/Anniversary to my spouse/mother/daughter/etc even though they are not on Facebook!”. Seriously? PICK UP THE PHONE. This just happened to us and it really sent me over the edge. We’ve asked REPEATEDLY that family not post our photos on Facebook. It keeps happening because some people need their next “like” fix. Getting “likes” is as addictive as any drug and users will use friend and family to get more without a thought. Heroine addicts continue to shoot up knowing full well how it effects their families. They lose their families. Facebook is tearing relationships apart as well.
My husband does not have a Facebook account because he does not want to be on it. Period. End of story. I’m on it for work an so I can manage photos the family’s online reputation & presence. There it was. No phone call, just a “Happy Birthday to [my husband]…” for 300 of their “closest friends” to see along with a photo of him and our children from our private photo stream. It was extremely hurtful and embarrassing to us all. This wasn’t posted for him. This was posted for attention and likes. If you’re proud of someone, you should respect their wishes. My husband is a successful, respected man and makes informed, rational decisions. His decision to not have his photos posted and to not have his children’s photos was blatantly disregarded for a “like” fix. He’s a tough guy and didn’t let it ruin his birthday, but it really put a damper on our activities (which the culprit was not present to enjoy in person).
We share a ton of photos privately and intend them to stay private. I thought we were being great kids/brother/sister/niece/nephews doing this. It’s a pretty simple request, right? Honestly, I thought I was up for daughter/daughter-in-law/sister/niece of the year with how well I keep everyone up-to-date with my kids sports and other achievements & milestones. If they are shared publicly, that should be my choice. I took the photos, they are my kids, at the very least, consent should be given before they are posted. So, when a photo is posted without my consent and in direct violation of my specific request, I feel extremely violated. Do you wish these feelings on someone? Don’t use a photo of or by anyone else for your own “like” fix. You might as well break into my home and take from me.
HEAD IN THE SAND
Ready to delete your Facebook account? Don’t just yet. You need it to manage your own online presence as well as your family’s. My children are active in sports and other activities, and as such, appear in those organization’s materials. Sometimes it’s a team photo, sometimes it’s a candid, often times it’s to either congratulate them or promote the team or organization. You can ask that your child’s photos not be posted and most groups have a consent for that includes using photos online and in other media that you may be able to opt out of. Facebook does currently have a reporting system if a photo of your child under the age of 13 is posted without your consent. You can also ask that they take it down.
Staying off of Facebook doesn’t mean
that you and your children won’t be on it.
Staying off of Facebook doesn’t mean that you and your children won’t be on it. Your friends will post photos from birthday parties or other events with good intentions. I prefer to stay ahead of the game by keeping informed on what’s going on.
Other people and groups should not post personal details about your child. My children have been in posts by their teams and other groups, but usually children’s groups know to not post personal information. Their names are rarely mentioned.
Pay attention when you check the box that says whether or not your child’s photo can be used by a business or if it’s something you must agree to when signing up. Like the pages for everything your children are involved in so you can make sure that they are always presented in a positive light.
You may not want future in-laws or employers to see your kid wearing nothing but boots and a cowboy hat at age 2, but when the team wins a regional tournament, that’s a good online presence.
HOW TO FACEBOOK RESPONSIBLY
Facebook has become one of those necessary evils. It truly is great for keeping up with friends and family from thousands of miles away. So is Facetime & text messaging, but Facebook puts it all in one place. That’s great. It really is. I’ll let Facebook mine a bit of data off of me if I can see that my college best friend got the job she wanted and that my cousin is doing great. I won’t use to potentially embarrass my children in the future, or worse, keep them from their hopes and dreams.
I’ll use it to keep a watchful eye over what’s being posted about my family. I’ll use it to keep up-to-date with hot the intricacies of social media really works, because soon my children are going to want social medial accounts of their own and there’s no guidebook to how to parent in this ever-evolving online world. My kids are growing up with a different perspective on technology just like I did with my parents. If I’m going to know how to manage it and talk to them about it, I need to keep informed. It’s difficult for sure. I work multiple jobs and am still there as a full-time mom. It’s the most difficult juggling act there is. But I have so much pride and love for them that it makes it all worth it.
Just don’t mess with my kids on or offline. I didn’t grown my businesses from the ground up on rainbows and unicorns. If you want to be a part of my family’s more intimate side, expect to have that relationship with us offline. Come on over, have some tea, and I’ll show you the photo album from our latest trip because I’m old school like that – and I firmly believe that our family has thrived and will continue to thrive through our informed mix of technology and old fashioned together time.
Erika Elmuts doesn’t post photos of her 8-year-old daughter on Facebook and says she’s vigilant about preventing friends and family from including pictures of the girl on their accounts, too. The San Diego, Calif., mom says she doesn’t necessarily think something bad will happen if those images show up on the social network, but she simply wants to be able to decide who sees them.