A unique convergence occurred this week. Firstly, a friend forwarded me an interesting article regarding Mark Zukerberg. The article questioned whether or not Zuckerberg will implement changes to Facebook now that he is approaching fatherhood. Quoting from another father in the social media world, the article read, “Before, when I looked at new technology, I’d say ‘That’s really cool.’ But now I immediately jump to ‘How that could be abused?” After reading this article, I saw on my news feed a re-posting of a photo which Facebook had removed. This photo involved 6 women, all completely naked, breastfeeding their completely naked babies. Rightly or wrongly, Facebook decided that such a photo contravened their ‘no nudity policy.’ To top it all off, yet again, I have been confronted with parents posting, what I would consider, inappropriate pictures and comments about their children. It was quite the social media week.
These things got me thinking about some of the things I see frequently on social media. I don’t know about you, but I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with some of the posts I see. I am not speaking of the overly politicized messages, or the controversial links that people share. Instead, I am speaking about what I have seen people post in reference to their children. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that Facebook allows us the opportunity to share our lives with each other. I frequently update my status, have messenger conversations, and post pictures on my various profiles. As a priest I post about things related to my church, and as a father I naturally post about life with my son. Yet as was quoted above, we need to always be thinking about how our words and images may be viewed and/or abused.
Personally, I draw the line at posting naked pictures of my child on line. Actually, I generally avoid posting pictures of my son on line under any circumstance. Still, I have seen far too many parents post pictures or videos of their toddlers (not babies!) in full-frontal nakedness. Sometimes it is a video of the child in the bath, sometimes it is the ‘cute’ picture of him or her standing in the back yard kiddy-pool. One parent even posted pictures and videos of potty-training lessons.
I am not trying to be a prude here, nor do I mean any disrespect to these parents. But Facebook has a fairly stringent policy when it comes to nudity. The policy reads “We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks.” Throughout the years, many Facebook users have found their pictures or videos removed, or their entire profiles deleted, for the presence of nude/semi-nude images. It only takes one person to report a post or image as being ‘pornographic’ and the user could be in a world of trouble. Sadly, this is the reality in which we live.
We need to think about what we put on Facebook. As much as we say that we are the ‘owners’ of the images we post, is this really true? While this may be a legal reality it is not necessarily a technological one. Recently a family was horrified to find a picture of their special needs daughter in an ad campaign promoting pre-natal screening. The photo was obtained through a free stock-photo site, which obviously obtained the photo without the parent’s permission. The reality of technology today is that once we post something on-line we have no control, and often no clue, where the images may end up.
But this isn’t just about the images we post. It is about how we engage with social media. As potentially dangerous the posting of naked pictures may be, what we say about our children can be as equally harmful. I have read far too many posts that begin ‘Finally the little hell-raisers are asleep!’, or ‘My 3 year old is why I drink wine!’ One parent even posted ‘I sometimes hate my children.’
I get the frustrations of parenthood. I too enjoy my alone time. And yes, there are times when fatherhood becomes taxing to my own inner balance. But those are times when, as a parent, I need to model good behaviour. When we need to vent, this should be done in private places, and not on forums that are open to the public. Just think for a moment about what may occur when our children are old enough for their own Facebook page, and they happen to read the stuff we write? Would our children be edified by our social commentaries? Would their lives be enriched by insights into how we see the world, and them? And before we say ‘these posts will be ancient before they get a chance to read them’, consider the current trend of Facebook telling you what you posted ‘On this day. .’ Can you be sure that in three years your child will not read “my children ruined the Christmas surprise! Stupid buggers!”
Yes at this date, our children may be of pre-Facebook age, but the reality is that they still have a Facebook footprint. Did you know that if you type your child’s name in the Facebook search engine, posts declaring their name will show up? I tried this and read statuses relating to my son dating back to 2013.
Part of our role as parents is to protect our children, physically, socially, spiritually, and also electronically. Personally, I want my child to have as little a digital footprint as possible, until he reaches the age when he is able to be responsible for how he is perceived in the social-media world. When he does reach the age of having his own Social Media profile, I don’t want his profile to be automatically associated with naked pictures and angry rants. I want him to always know that his parents are there to support him, to encourage him, and to love him for who he is. Therefore, as his father, my social media page, and the manner that I speak about him, should always reflect this fundamental reality.
Parents, we need to be responsible about what we choose to post on-line
about our children. If we wouldn’t put the picture or the status on shirt then we shouldn’t put it on-line; If we wouldn’t declare something to our children’s face, then we shouldn’t declare it of them on Facebook.