Facebook, Privacy, and the Commoditization of Children
By MARRI Intern
Recently on Slate, author Amy Webb recounted the story of a friend who frequently posts pictures of her young daughter on Facebook. In her opinion, these digital memories are irreversibly “preventing [the daughter] from any hope of future anonymity.” In reaction to this modern way of public life, before Webb’s daughter was even born she and her husband created social media profiles and a Gmail account for their child. When she is old enough their daughter will have access to an online presence, if she so chooses. Now that their daughter has been born, they diligently monitor social media websites to ensure that none of their friends or relatives posts pictures or personal information about their child.
While Webb’s prerogative as a parent is not in question, she does raise an interesting (and rather concerning) question: what are parents doing to children’s futures by putting them in the public spotlight before they are conscious of the decision? In the past, baby pictures were kept at home in an album; today they are broadcast on the internet. Before modern technology, a person had to know the parents to be able to see a child’s pictures; now, depending on your internet privacy know-how, anyone can see them, including corporate face recognition software. There are babies and children on social media news feeds that users have never met and likely never will because they are the step-nephew-in-law of their college roommate’s best friend (or something like that). While there are cynical applications to remove babies from their news feeds, this is not the point. The point is that society has changed. Americans are increasingly willing to share private details of their lives in a public forum, sometimes with unfortunate negative consequences.
There are countless stories of parents finding pictures of their children being used for advertising, for fake online accounts or even for child pornography. Furthermore, many children born into this generation will have had an online presence since before they were born (think sonogram pictures). American parents have shifted from protecting their children’s privacy to publicly displaying their children. Sons and daughters have arguably become yet another possession that one may flaunt before neighbors. How many “likes” will I get if I post a picture of my child doing x? Look at my baby’s adorable new clothes! And on it goes. Even celebrities effectively place a dollar value on their children by selling the rights to their baby’s first pictures. Parents’ love for and adoration of their children is certainly not in question here, but are these parents devaluing their child by sharing him or her with the world?
Perhaps these parents could instead spend their efforts on become more actively involved in their children’s lives and education to ensure the best chance for their success. Click here for more information from MARRI on what involvement in your child’s life at a young age can mean for his or her development.