In the midst of Jiu-Jitsu videos and product announcements, Mark Zuckerberg’s Instagram profile recently showcased a candid snapshot of him and his family celebrating Independence Day. However, the faces of his young daughters, aged 5 and 7, were obscured by emojis, igniting a debate on social media. Critics accused Zuckerberg of hypocrisy, given the ongoing concerns about privacy practices within his company, Meta.
Understanding the Complexity:
While it is undoubtedly ironic that Zuckerberg, whose platforms thrive on data extraction, seeks to limit the dissemination of his own data, it is essential to consider two crucial factors. Firstly, this decision primarily revolves around protecting his children rather than himself. Secondly, using emojis to cover their faces aims to minimize their visibility to specific audiences rather than prevent data extraction by platforms.
The Growing Responsibility of Parents:
While platforms bear significant responsibility, Zuckerberg’s post serves as a reminder that, alongside the usual parenting responsibilities, parents now face the added challenge of managing their children’s digital identities. While Zuckerberg’s wealth allows him and his wife to avail various forms of assistance in raising their children, they, like all parents, must actively safeguard their children’s privacy. This involves determining what information they feel comfortable sharing online about their children, an aspect on which Meta declined to comment regarding Zuckerberg’s posting decisions.
The Unique Dilemma for Parents:
While celebrity parents contend with acute privacy and security threats, such as intrusive paparazzi or kidnapping risks, the pervasive influence of digital interactions in our daily lives means that all parents must grapple with the potential impact of the information they create and share concerning their children. Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all answers to these challenges, and even the most thoughtful parent may unknowingly do something that their child finds embarrassing or worse. As the first generation of post-Facebook children matures, we witness young people expressing emotional responses to their parents’ online posts.
Parental Strategies for Privacy:
Parents have long been pondering how to balance self-expression and social connection on social media while respecting their children’s privacy. A decade ago, during research interviews with over 100 parents, my team and I discovered various steps taken by parents to address privacy concerns when posting about their children. These measures included communicating posting preferences to family and friends, creating separate profiles dedicated to child-related content with a limited audience, and employing privacy-protective tactics specific to photos, like those utilized by Zuckerberg.
Collaborative Approach to Posting:
As summer vacation season presents more opportunities for photo-sharing, I offer parents the following advice: transform posting into a collaborative activity by involving your children in the process. Prior to each post, ask your children how they feel about it and genuinely listen to their input. If they are content with the idea of sharing, that’s wonderful. However, if they express reservations, respect their wishes and refrain from posting. If sharing the image is important to you, work together to find a solution. Perhaps employing privacy-preserving techniques like those mentioned earlier, or alternatively, privately messaging the photo to a select few instead of posting it on social media.
Engaging Children and Fostering Openness:
Although infants cannot actively participate in these discussions, children aged 4 to 6 are developing a sense of their own individuality and can begin engaging in conversations about parental posting. By involving children in the decision-making process and valuing their preferences, parents convey that their children have agency in shaping their digital footprint and that their perspective matters. Actively deliberating what to post on your own account also provides children with a model to follow when they make decisions about their own online presence.
A Collaborative Approach to Privacy Stewardship:
Treating posting as a collaborative process can alleviate some of the tensions surrounding privacy stewardship. Discussions about parental social media posting often emphasize the clash between a parent’s right to post and a child’s right to privacy, creating an adversarial atmosphere. However, rather than focusing on whose rights take precedence, the focus should be on what is best for the parent-child relationship. This approach allows children to feel comfortable sharing their concerns with parents if they ever experience tension concerning parental posting. Additionally, this foundation of openness may enable children to seek parental support and guidance when facing other technology-related challenges.
The Root of Privacy Concerns:
While each family must navigate privacy stewardship, it is crucial not to lose sight of the underlying reason for these concerns. Platforms owned by Zuckerberg, such as Facebook and Instagram, have not only replaced traditional mediums like baby books but have also absorbed the functions of family reunions, newspapers, marketplaces, and town squares. Consequently, an abundance of personal information and attention is concentrated in one place, all for the purpose of enriching Zuckerberg (albeit under the guise of closeness and community).
While it may not be fair to criticize Zuckerberg the father for protecting his children’s privacy, it is essential to hold Zuckerberg the corporate titan accountable for profiting from our data. This represents the true privacy problem of social media, affecting both children and adults alike. As we navigate the intricacies of privacy in the digital age, we must remain vigilant, empower our children, and foster open dialogue to ensure their well-being in an increasingly interconnected world.