Before I started blogging about paternity leave, I had a discussion with my wife about including pictures of the Lyketroll. Her initial response was an unequivocal no, but she then decided that photos where you couldn’t see his face would be an acceptable exception. When I asked her why, she didn’t really have an answer, although she did make one excellent point: that I didn’t actually need to include pictures of him on the blog – if I did, then the focus shifts to him, rather than it being about me and my paternity leave. I had to think about that for a good long while as it had a lot to say about the hows, whats and whys of the contents of this blog.
Well before he was born, we had a discussion about our Lykketroll Social Media Strategy. We put pictures of him up on Facebook but we have our privacy settings so that only friends can see the pictures we post of him. For all the more candid photos, we set up a Dropbox folder that only our very closest family have access to.
Having tight-ish privacy settings gives us some degree of control over who gets to see pictures of him on Facebook, so my wife has no problem with that, but she really doesn’t want his photo online on open media (e.g. my Instagram and this blog).
We have a single, simple rule for the pictures we put up of him on Facebook, or status updates about him: nothing making fun of him or anything that we feel could make him feel bad if his older more mature self ever saw it; it’s a basic application of the Golden Rule.
My default position was that as long as I continued to apply the golden rule there really isn’t much of a difference where the pictures are posted, but I’m still thinking it through, which is exactly what this post is about. I pushed my wife for reasons for a few days, both because I love getting into ethical discussions with her and also because I don’t do well when people can't give reasons for their decisions, but once she’d said no, I was always going to respect her wishes.
I suppose there are two sets of reasons not to put pictures of your children up on Facebook, or more generally online. One is the nebulous fear that they could ‘fall into the wrong hands’ – I suppose we are talking paedophiles, stalkers or cyber-kidnappers stealing your child’s identity. I acknowledge that the fear is very real – at least a couple of our friends have expressed it – but the actual threat is not, and I am generally unconcerned to be honest. Snopes has done an excellent breakdown of the Facebook kidnapping panic that does the rounds every so often. Most abuse/kidnapping of children is done by people they (and by extension you) already know, not random strangers trawling the web. Although the Snopes piece doesn’t address the issue directly, it brings up a point that speaks to the paedophile issue, too: paedophiles don’t need Facebook and Instagram – sadly, there are plenty of other places on the deep, dark web where they can get what they need.
The other set of reasons is the one that has more salience for me: how will future Lykketroll feel about the images and stories we shared of him at a time when he had no control over his digital legacy, and how will it affect his future?
As a baby, the Lykketroll has no real agency - his brain and mind just aren't mature enough yet. I (or more accurately we) decide when he sleeps (or at least we like to kid our selves we do), what he eats, when he eats, what he eats, what he does and doesn’t get to shove in his mouth/nose/ear, and when he gets photographed and where those photographs go. Does my sharing pictures of him on this blog – or, in fact, just the act of writing this blog – mean that I have decided on his behalf that, as he doesn’t really have agency, and is not mature enough to understand the concept of privacy, that he doesn’t deserve privacy? On the flip side, I can’t really violate his privacy until he understands what that violation means. It’s a real pickle of an ethical jam.
Using one of his pet names (Lykketroll, or the ‘Troll) affords him a little protection, I suppose, as, so the theory goes, a search for his real name shouldn’t bring up any of these posts. But I’m not so naïve as to think this is any real protection of his anonymity and privacy. It’ll only take a couple of slips ups, or the fact that my own presence on the web has been pretty unfiltered up to this point, for our Google Overlords to connect the dots.
Once he is a little older, he will of course be able to veto any pictures of him that go up anywhere on social media, or this blog, if it is still going. But how is it going to work in practice? What will it mean if I ask the Lykketroll when he is two or three years old if I can put this picture up on Facebook or Instagram? When will he be mature enough to comprehend what it means to share an image of himself that has potentially unlimited reach and will essentially be out there forever, ready to be turned into a cute or malicious meme at the whim? When he’s a teenager? I barely understand the concept as a grown-ass adult (as this blog and my digital footprint clearly demonstrates), so is it reasonable to expect a cohesive and informed response from him? And by then, I'll be closing the barn door just as the horse becomes a dot on the horizon.
I grew up with the luxury of not having my life documented in pictures online. Pictures of me covered in icecream or poop, or throwing a tantrum, or splashing like a naked loon in the bathtub, are hidden away in real photo albums, not Facebook albums, and will only been seen by a select few. Facebook became a thing just as I finished by BSc. I am very grateful that photos of my university days were taken on film cameras and that the hardcopies are locked away in a box in our attic. I get to choose if I want people to see that time when I wore 6-inch heels and a sexy nurse costume that barely fit my five-foot tall friend.
The first Facebook Babies, whose lives have been documented and shared prolifically from Day 1, are about 12, and are only now coming to an age where they might be able to thoughtfully articulate what it means to have such deep and long-reaching digital footprints. Their reaction in the coming few years might help me figure out how to handle the Lykketroll’s digital presence going forward. Although the Lykketroll's world will be very different to even theirs, so who knows if any real parallels can be drawn, or lessons learned.
For now, until he decides otherwise, to the general public at least, the Lykketroll must remain hidden in plain sight, and I will just have to hope that the golden rule is enough and hope that the Lykketroll doesn't come to resent me for oversharenting. Maybe he'll come to wish I'd followed the other, safer Golden Rule?