Parents, Stop Exploiting Your Children via Social Media

This is a topic that is not necessarily France-related but has been on my mind for a while now. It’s a bit of a difficult subject – I want to be sure that I don’t offend any friends or family that could be concerned by my opinion. And hopefully what I say will not come as a surprise to any of them, hopefully they will have already considered what I am about to say and the implications of the content they publish featuring their children. But for anyone that hasn’t, well, it’s definitely something to think about.

Once upon a time on the Internet…

First, let me preface this by saying that I have no children – at least, not to my knowledge (Mom, Dad, calm down that was a joke). Therefore, I cannot say that I have set any type of example to follow regarding social media use and my children. What I do know, however, is that this is the first generation of children who will grow up with social media. Their photos will appear on Facebook and their videos will appear on YouTube – without their consent and without their knowledge.

“My baby likes reggae. Now legalize marijuana.”

I remember seeing this video come up on Facebook a while ago – and it shocked me. Not because some little boy liked reggae (big deal, I used to dance to the Rolling Stones when I was 4 years old – slightly less cool but still), but because the people who are responsible for him are posting this video as a “legalize marijuana” message. Now I’m probably getting way ahead of myself, but someday this boy will go to school and will also want a job. He had absolutely no control over this content but will be automatically linked to marijuana regardless. Will this content one day be used against him? Or will authority figures and employers ultimately realize that he was not an active participant in the creation of this content.

If you were studying, why is there a picture of you at the party ?

I remember when Facebook first came out, people had to come to terms with what content they should put on it. Little by little, people started to realize that they need to get a grip on party photos, inappropriate wall comments and potentially problematic group memberships. This happened especially once the Facebook generation realized that this content could be seen by potential employers. Then, people started to tune in to the relationship status. As people started adding more and more “friends”, it became apparent that it may not be the best idea to tell everyone who you date, how often you break up, etc. In all fairness, some people don’t mind – but many people won’t post their actual relationship status unless they don’t plan to change it for a fair amount of time.

(OK, and there are some people that downright lie on Facebook too…but that kind of defeats the purpose…)

Ha ha, and you thought there were privacy controls !

Now, I’m sure many people will tell me that many of these platforms offer privacy controls – and they do. Facebook has actually gotten a lot better about offering users customization options to that they can pin-point who sees what. But take my word for it – I have had people commenting on content that was not supposed to be visible to them. No platform is perfect. And don’t forget that privacy controls do not prohibit people with access to your content from sharing it with others. The best way to protect content that you don’t want to be seen is to remove it all together – otherwise you take the risk.

“I can’t walk but I have a Facebook account.”

Now, back to babies. Like I said before, I have no kids – but I do understand parents that want to share their child’s first words, first steps, etc. with their friends and family on Facebook. Heck, I love seeing my family halfway across the globe and being able to see their kids grow up. To a certain extent, it’s probably just the social media version of sending photos in the mail; no 2-year-old child ever had to give their consent for that! But the difference is that those photos usually ended up in very few hands. But as more and more of my Facebook friends get married and have children, I’ve noticed that they take the liberty to actually set-up Facebook accounts for their new born babies or to blog about their growth and life publicly. These are babies that can’t walk and can’t talk, yet they have a digial identity that is out of their control. And as they get older and eventually want to control that content, they may feel violated by decisions their parents have made regarding how they have distributed their content on the web. There is tons of software that can help you to monitor your children and what they do online later on – but what about what you do on their behalf until then?

Facebook and mobile phones, it’s all digital censorship from here.

At the end of the day, it is possible for anyone to snap a picture or a video of you, your child or anyone and put in on the net. Whether or not they identify you, tag you, etc. that content can be accessible and out of your control (so the best way to avoid it is to control yourself or accept that you run that risk). Employers are people too – as long as you aren’t doing something really horrific or illegal, they may overlook whatever silly content they find. But as a parent, responsible for a child, take your child into consideration and don’t exploit him or her via social media.

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