Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Establishing a Digital Heritage? Really?

My wife and I have a few rules when it comes to talking about our kids online.

No names, no ages. A minimal number of photos. Past sins and breakings of these rules (mostly by me; who am I kidding, all by me) have been corrected, as far as the Internet will let us correct them.
And we don’t babble about our kids incessantly online. If there’s trouble, we discuss it in person, face-to-face, only bringing in outside help when needed or required. Our lives are not an open book online.
So I agree with some of what Amy Webb writes at about mentioning nothing of her daughter online.
Part of me thinks, however, that much of what Webb writes about is borne of paranoia, rather than good parenting.
Check this out:
The process started in earnest as we were selecting her name. We’d narrowed the list down to a few alternatives and ran each (and their variants) through domain and keyword searches to see what was available. Next, we crawled through Google to see what content had been posted with those name combinations, and we also looked to see if a Gmail address was open.
With her name decided, we spent several hours registering her URL and a vast array of social media sites. All of that tied back to a single email account, which would act as a primary access key. We listed my permanent email address as a secondary—just as you’d fill out financial paperwork for a minor at a bank. We built a password management system for her to store all of her login information.
On the day of her birth, our daughter already had accounts at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Github. And to this day, we’ve never posted any content.
Really? We’re so paranoid about online personae we’re Googling names and email handles and such even before the kid is born – and we’re letting the results of those searches dictate what name our kid is known by? I suppose that would be a good thing if, say, your last name were Cyrus and you were toying with the idea of naming your daughter Miley, but even then – if the name Miley Cyrus means a lot to you, has a history in your family for good, why let that twerking twerp’s online presence convince you to name the tot Clementine?
This also assumes things like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other services are going to be around when the child wants to become socially engaged online. By that time, Facebook’s core of early adopters is going to be in the nursing home, talking about how the Internet was a lot brighter and easier to read when they were kids and bragging about the new onions they have hanging from their belts. We’re sure nothing new is going to come along to replace the whiz-bang of today’s Internet with something even flashier? My Dad was a Ford man, and we knew that growing up. Right now, I own a Honda and a Toyota. Things change, folks.
I understand the desire to keep things private, especially in today’s world of open everything. But striking a middle ground, where children are not taboo subjects online, seems more sensible to me.
I also have to wonder – will this parenting also forbid possibly embarrassing yearbook pictures? Will birthday party hosts cower in fear when the Mean Internet Mommy descends upon them with thunderbolts when they dare post a photo of their daughter attending another child’s birthday party? Or photos from a school outing? Not everyone is going to have your safety-minded but paranoia-fueled Internet world view, but they do know what happens when you stir a big cauldron of crazy. The innocents of the Internet have a lot more to fear from the Wrath of Mom than they have from any facial recognition algorithms or corporate data mining.
It’s great to want to protect your kids. I hope at the same time you’re protecting them that you’re teaching them about the Internet, showing them your own Facebook and discussing what is and what is not appropriate to post online, so when you hand over that envelope (and they don’t look at it as if you’ve just handed them gift certificates for sauerkraut candy) that they understand your concerns and are driven by curiosity, not fear or an explosion of oversharing because they’ve finally been given the keys to the car.
Just out of curiosity, I Googled myself, and my oldest boy. Of me, there is a grand total of one photo available on the Internet, along with two other images currently associated with my Facebook account. Of my son, there are none. My Facebook and LinkedIn profiles turn up as the top two results in the Google search of just my name. My son is nowhere to be found. A more nuanced search turns up one photo of my son, with his face mostly obscured by a camera he’s holding. I’m not too worried about that.

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