Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Children, Privacy, and New Media

I once posted a link to an amazing blog called Mila’s Daydreams. On it, the author posted photos of artistically-crafted scenes around her napping daughter. Unfortunately, the creator of this blog had to remove the photos because they were being stolen and used without permission by advertisers.
I had posted a couple of the photos on this blog and linked back to her site, but I’ve since removed those photos to ensure that I don’t unwittingly put them in the hands of someone who will misuse them. You can see thumbnails of all of them here

Mila’s Daydreams will be showcased in a forthcoming book.

This incident has me thinking about new media and the effects it will have on our children. I’ve posted very few pictures of my daughter on this blog simply because I don’t know who’s reading it. Most of you are wonderful people who I want to share my experiences with. But what happens if an advertiser wants to take my picture and suddenly my daughter is the poster child for some product I’ve never seen. Or maybe she’ll be the poster child for something I have qualms about (like advertisements for formula given to new moms).
But I have posted many pictures of my daughter on Facebook, and it feels safer because the photos are limited to my friends. I recognize that this is mostly the illusion of security, however, as internet content is easily manipulated by those who know what they’re doing. 

In the (slightly dated) New York Times article “Guardian of their Smiles,” this issue is tackled head-on.
Of course, like all the parenting topics, there is heated debate over the ethics of posting children’s photos on the web. Some say it’s never safe. Others say that we have to learn to navigate these new realities of our technologically-advanced world. 

As the NYT article puts it:

It’s not always easy to know what’s the right thing to do. "I feel conflicted about it," she said. "People have said to me, ‘Oh, you’re exploiting your kids.’ But the medium is so new, none of us know what is going to happen."

The article also mentions that people create rules and limits: no names, post only on sites with a password, etc.

The worst fear of all fueling this debate is that some will use these pictures for predatory aims. But the article cites Stephen Balkan from the Family Online Safety Institute as saying the fear is “techno-panic.” There is “virtually no risk of pedophiles coming to get kids because they found them online.”

At the heart of this debate is how we handle new forms of media as they arise. Plato warned against the dangers of written text. There were fears that the telephone would make us isolated. We are warned about the way that text-speak is degrading the minds of our youth.

No matter how progressive we want to see ourselves (and how progressive we are to make such technological advances), we’re still, at heart, creatures of habit. Media is so tied up to the way we communicate and communication is so close to how we establish our identities that it makes sense we would get nervous about anything that rocks the boat.

Of course, I am entering this conversation with a stake in this fight. I blog about my daughter and my life. I do have some rules that are based entirely off of my gut-instinct and not hard facts. I recognize that they are arbitrary and probably don’t make much difference.

In the end, I think about the fact that my mother entered me into local baby contests when I was an infant. My picture was printed in the small-town newspaper (and, truth be told, is probably available online somewhere by now). Though this blog is definitely a much bigger "newspaper," is the principle really that different?

No comments:

Post a Comment