Illustration by Timothy Sean Johnston
So recently, yet another"Parenting: You're Doing It Wrong" screed made its way around Facebook, garnering shares and likes and votes of support. Which, given the topic, is pretty ironic. This particular bit of viral vitriol, by Slate writer Amy Webb, suggests that those of us who share pictures and posts about our children are, in essence, dooming them to a future without privacy. Our Facebook albums are all but ensuring our offspring a place in the monolithic secret database where "they" are collecting information to use against us in some nefarious way in the not-so-distant future.
OK, maybe it wasn't that ominous. But Webb strongly believes that sharing your kid's picture on Facebook will make him or her easier to find using facial recognition software, and that if you post about your toddler's misbehavior, they could be red-flagged as a troublemaker when college admission time rolls around. No, really. Webb said that. She also Googled baby names to make sure the name she chose for her daughter had no negative connotations — you know, serial killers or porn stars. And, of course, she made sure that the URL and Gmail addresses for her daughter's full name were still available. Then she immediately "parked" the domain and created a Gmail account. For her unborn child.
Here is where we take a minute and savor the delicious irony of a mom who is so paranoid about her precious princess' online privacy and anonymity that she won't allow a cute baby picture to be shared with elderly aunts and faraway friends, but who is also so intent on her baby having her own dedicated website that she can't name her baby without doing a "Whois" search. Not only that, but she can't stomach the thought of her daughter having to add a couple of digits after her name to differentiate her from the other 362
McKayla Webbs on Gmail. Not that her daughter's name is really McKayla. I don't know what it is! She won't tell us!
Shortly after the article came out, several people responded by posting photos of Amy Webb's daughter. That they found online. On the one hand, this validated her thesis, but on the other hand, it proved that her somewhat hyper-vigilant approach to online privacy was, in effect, a big fat waste of time. Because seriously? We're all on the Internet. You, me, your kids, my kids, all of us. And once we're there, there's no turning back.
It's possible that I am a little bit defensive about this topic because I'm a compulsive online oversharer when it comes to The Boy. I can't help it; he's adorable — not that I'm biased — and eminently quotable.
I'm also — and I realize that this creates a conflict of interest — an inveterate tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist. I fish for change twice a day to cross the Nickel Bridge so that "they" can't track my movements via SmartTag. I don't allow third-party apps to access my Facebook information, and I considered lying on the census just to throw "them" off our trail. The thought of some nameless, faceless entity documenting my comings and goings makes me twitchy. But look for pictures of my kid online, and you'll find them in spades.
I've been careful about some of the really public stuff. In this column, I've never used his actual name. But I never made any pretense of hiding his name or his face on Facebook, because, hey! My Facebook posts are only visible to my friends! That's practically private, right? Just me and a couple thousand of my closest friends. And I'm not even counting the bots and spiders that Facebook allows to access our photos behind the scenes. Does it creep me out? Sure, a little. Enough to take The Boy underground? No, not yet. These days, the Internet is just another neighborhood we travel through — and I hope to equip my kid with enough street smarts to make it through safely. Regardless of who knows his name