Paul A. Kirschner
I published this originally as a blog in Dutch, but after listening to the podcast Note to Self entitled “Should We Post Pictures of Our Children Online?”, I decided to translate it because the show missed one or two very important points. After reading “My daughter asked me to stop writing about motherhood. Here’s why I can’t do that” in the Washington Post, he decided to put it up here too.
I recently read a proposition in a thesis to the effect that new-born children of parents with a Facebook account should immediately be given their own account so friends and family can stay informed of their development. I could hardly believe my eyes for two reasons. Firstly, a proposition published in a Dutch thesis – a requirement here – must be defensible and not just be a funny or droll statement. Secondly, I believe that to do something like this is reprehensible.
First: Is this proposition defensible? I think that this statement is only defensible in a small club of countries in the world where, thankfully, the Netherlands is not a member. What’s the case? The Netherlands is, namely, a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 16 of this Declaration reads as follows:
16.1 No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.
16.2 The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
If parents – or whomever – choose to record and publish information about their newborn child on Facebook, they are arbitrarily interfering in the private life of their child. In essence, the parents should not be encouraged to do this but rather stopped. And a parent who does this should actually be prosecuted for this interference.
Additionally, and this has a lot to do with why I find such behaviour reprehensible, is that such Facebook posts could, in the near or distant future, lead to a violation of the honour and good name of the child or even worse. How? Well, a while ago there was an opinion piece in a Dutch newspaper (the NRC) about this. It was about an imaginary boy (in 2020) who applied for a job. He was rejected because, according to the employer, there was a candidate who had better credentials. The real reason was that the employer Googled the boy’s background and found that the parents had made mention of the fact – on his Facebook page – that he had had a heart problem as a child. The real reason for rejection was that the employer was afraid of high absenteeism and medical coverage costs in the future.
What we put on the Internet has a long life and cannot be wiped clean!. It’s bad enough that reckless (young, stupid, unthinking; you add the adjective of choice) secondary school pupils and university students post pictures and stories of themselves and their youthful transgressions and stupidities on the web which can come back to haunt them. You might say “you made your bed, now lay in it “. But what if a child is relentlessly bullied when (s)he is 15 because a classmate discovered that the (s)he was still peeing in bed when (s)he was 5 or that there were “funny” pictures of her/him being toilet trained. It’s not the child’s fault that his or her unthinking or naïve parents – who thought it was funny or cute – put this on the Internet. The parents made the bed but the child has to lay in it!
Parents are justifiably proud of their child and have the right to tell their close friends and family about how their child is growing and developing. They can send emails to each other, send photos to each other and even – but this is a grey area – make photos available to only family and friends on Flickr or Picassa (we know how bad FB is with respect to privacy!). But, as in Article 16 of the Treaty states, a child has the right to protection of the law against unsolicited and potentially unwanted interference with his or her life or damage – now or in the future – of his/her or honour or reputation.
Parents, be sensible and DON’T do what this young doctor is proposing!