I’m writing with the understanding that it’s being said in a public space.
Trigger warning: Discussions of child abuse.
My friend recently wrote a blog post about why an over abundance of the presences of small children on social media makes him uncomfortable. The main point being that the Internet isn’t private. It’s public and it’s there forever(or until it collapses) Also, despite what people think, privacy settings don’t mean shit. TOS agreements can be changed. As consenting adults, we agree or disagree with these odd spheres of ephemeral public spaces. I agree to read blogs, thus sharing in the Internet life of friends, family, and strangers. I know that posting pictures to Facebook means they no longer belong to me. Enjoy all the blurry pictures of snow and the 20 images of beans and rice I uploaded, FB. I’m sure they’ll serve you in good stead.
But. I am an adult. Also, I’m an olderish adult. The choices I make are that: mine. Many years have been spent refining opinions and sculpting options. At this point, I have a fairly clear understanding of what I’m signing up for in living a public life. When I am faced with the consequence of that life, I have the ability to engage with those consequences.
Children don’t have that luxury. Not because they don’t have the ability, though I would argue that by a certain age they do, but because we don’t allow them the option. An infant is completely at the mercy of the adults providing for them. While one could argue in favor or spiritual awareness and consent, I think that’s a bit of a stretch. A baby requires grown humans to make sure they survive to the next day. This means grown humans making decisions for the infant. What food to feed them, when to feed them, how to clothe them, how much affection to provide: all of these are things a baby needs to survive. And while my delivery may sound a bit cold, it’s because those are just basics. Those choices will factor in on a baby’s health and well-being. 200 pictures on FB or Twitter will not. Babies do not consent to having their images splayed all over the Internet. That is a choice made by adults for the adults own reasons. Those images, even if “deleted”, will last as long as the Internet.
“So what,” you may say, “No one is going to fault someone for their baby pictures.” Possibly. I think we are creating a culture where children are being taught their bodies are not theirs to control. To be dark about this: who cares if the neighbor is taking naked pictures of them? Mommy and daddy just posted 23 bath time photos online. Why should they care, when they’re older, that their crush is pressuring them to text them sexual pictures? Their legal guardians are always posting their pictures online, even though they’ve said they hate it. Love must mean doing things for other people that make you uncomfortable. Right?
“You’re being hyperbolic,” you cry. Am I? Isn’t Steubenville and the subsequent fallout a perfect example? Isn’t the outrage over a blog post made by an exhausted mother of an autistic child exactly what I’m talking about? What do we do when our public adult lives are meshed with the slowly public lives of the children we care for? I don’t have a perfect answer. I work for an organization that uses images in ads and social media, with parental consent, of the children for which it provides care. I’m torn on the issue. Guardians make these choices for their children of minor age. It’s legal. That means a legal guardian can press charges for the child. That means a legal guardian can choose what to do with the likeness of the child. The child has no say, unless the adult bothers to ask.
“In the end,” you sniff, “It’s the choice of the parent. Freedom of speech. My life, my rules.”
To which I say: I’m not saying you can’t or that doing so makes you a bad person. All I’m saying is that we, as a whole, provide a public life to a whole population of people that may not truly know what that entails. That is something people should consider.
Look, if your my friend, I probably like sharing that aspect of your public life. You want to give unfettered access to those photographs, great! Thank you for that trust. But, I also think it’s weird that we all expect our friends to be willing participants in the Internet slide show of your life. Wasn’t that a cliched trope when we were growing up: being subjected to someone’s projector slideshow of their trip to Florida? Now, there’s this group of people who think that we should all be grateful to be seeing 44 images of so-and-so in as many poses with Mickey or on the beach. I say this as someone guilty of doing this exact thing. Isn’t that weird? Why do we get upset when someone doesn’t want to share in the minutiae of our lives? Also, why do people get upset when you DON’T share your every waking moment? I figure that if someone is that invested in your comings and goings, they should be making the effort to be a part if your life. It’s okay if we miss out on things. It’s okay to be surprised after the fact. We’re missing out on life unfolding at a serendipitous pace. Now that we know all aspects of the trivia, we don’t know how to be act when the small, amazing moments happen. I shouldn’t be beholden to people who only access me through binary, nor should they be beholden to me. It’s okay if I don’t know you bought a house, or had a baby, or became a chef. I’ll find out when I find out. It’ll be such a lovely moment. Let those moments happen.