Like every mum, I love my baby girl and am very proud of her (though currently her main accomplishment in life is cruising furniture and pointing at random things). With mine and my husband’s family all around the world, it’s natural that we wanted to make sure we could share her finest (or amusingly worst) moments with those who cared.
But as someone who has worked in media a long time, I was wary of plastering her face everywhere online. Obviously this is a personal choice and it’s not my place to tell other mothers what to do with their children, but here’s why I do it.
An article in The Atlantic called “The Perils of ‘Sharenting’” (a term for parents who share everything about their children online), stated that more than 90 percent of 2-year olds in the US already had an online presence. For someone who only got a Facebook account in 2005, well into her twenties (and who still doesn’t have Tik Tok, or whatever the latest thing is) this was never an issue for me. I don’t have my first words, first foods or first poops documented on the Internet. All my baby memories live as hard copies in huge, voluminous photo albums my mother painstakingly put together. That means I’ll never really know what it’s like to grow up with the Internet, and having an Internet persona from the very start.
I enjoy a good Instagram selfie as much as anyone else, but the idea of creating any kind of social media account for my child brought up a lot of questions, as The Atlantic article puts it, about “privacy, consent, and the parent-child relationship.” It made me try to be more mindful about what I post and why. Facebook and Instagram already encourage you to fill in all kinds of details (anyone who’s watched The Social Dilemma will know why) and we often duly oblige, including our children’s full names, birth dates, even location tagging where they were born, and of course a photo. But once you’ve uploaded these, you never really know for sure where they’re going to go. Private accounts can help but really, is anything really that private online these days? And further down the road, as your child becomes more aware of their online identities, how will this affect them? Will those images and posts shape their own self-image?
An article in Forbes made these tiny digital footprints even more threatening. “According to the UK report, Barclays has forecast that by 2030 “sharenting” will account for 2/3 of identity fraud, costing hundreds of millions of dollars a year. With just a name, date of birth, and address (easy enough to find in a geotagged birthday party photo on Facebook, for example), bad actors can store this information until a person turns 18 and then begin opening accounts.”
All this was enough for me, as a mother-to-be, to put a social media ban on all grandparents, and to be fair, they’ve all been very good about keeping our daughter off social media. Instead we set up a Whatsapp group (I know, there are issues with that as well…but nothing is perfect) for close family, and use that to share almost-daily photos – with the Covid-19 pandemic making it impossible to travel, it’s the closest my in-laws can get to their only grandchild. When I do feature her on Instagram, I cover her face or recognisable features. At the same time, I’ve had to resign myself to accepting that I’ll never know the full extent of who my parents send her photos to on Whatsapp or email. I can’t control everything (even though, like most moms, I’ve tried).
At the moment, my daughter’s vocabulary is pretty limited to “mama” and “dada” (though we aren’t sure if that means llamas and ducks, or mommy and daddy, or all four) and so until she can say “No, don’t post that picture, it’s embarrassing,” I will try my best to limit what the Internet sees of her. You can’t shield your children from the horrors of the world forever, but you can shield them from a search engine, at least for a few years.