Social Media, Personal Information, and Children

Time with a child is finite and priceless. Documenting the good times in journal notes, travel photographs, and family videos is a fine way to relive happy memories in your old age. BUT … Do not put them online! And keep the kid(s) off social media as long as possible.

  • The information shared online today will most likely survive well into the future.
  • Peoples’ digital information footprint will affect future people more than today’s data profiles affect us now.
  • Data sent today is likely to be stored by individuals other than the intended recipients,
    • and used for unintended purposes.

These factors combine perniciously to undermine the future freedom and wellbeing of children by burdening them with an information history which they had no informed consent in crafting and that will be used to target them (to influence their behavior commercially and politically) and profile them (to automate judgement of their suitability for educational and financial opportunities).

If our great grandparents made a poor decision which they couldn’t live down, they could move to a new city, state, or country where they were unknown. Information today – every photo, text, and tweet – inescapably follows people from birth to grave; the only escape from the internet is suicide. Social mores and norms are changing faster than they used to and no one is safe from retroactive social opprobrium even if many people are legally protected from ex post facto laws. What might future people think of your children’s Halloween costumes, and what those photos say about the rest of their upbringing?

With technological progress, the information we create today might not be only what we think it is. For example, someone who took and shared a family photo from a crowded beach in the 1990s probably thought they were only sharing their family, but that photo now also encodes the known location and identity of everyone whose face is visible in the photo because of today’s advanced facial recognition technology. Are your photos today accidentally sharing your children’s iris scan, fingerprints, or something else? What might a mortgage company’s machine-learning “AI” think about how many beach photos you’ve shared, or the quality of the grammar in your emails? What might an automated social credit system think of your children’s childhood friends?

Many people today don’t store and process their data entirely on their own; they use “cloud” services to store and use it for them (because these services are much easier, cheaper, and more convenient). However, no information which touches the internet appears safe from theft. And then of course sometimes data is simply given away, or sold to a new third-party, or shared with an unanticipated “partner” or customer.

It’s one thing to take these [almost unavoidable] risks for ourselves as adults in exchange for important financial services and career networking. It’s something else to divulge a child’s data for mere curiosity and amusement – something entirely unacceptable.


Some links informing my thoughts on this:

We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online |Slate, by Amy Webb

Don’t post your naked child on social media | Reddit

Should you invest in your kid’s digital footprint? | Reuters, by Chris Taylor

How Social Media Is Affecting Your Parenting | Parents, by Mackenzie Dawson

Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids | Psychology Today, by Victoria L. Dunkley

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? | The Atlantic, by Jean M. Twenge

Dear Parents: The Internet Never Forgets / Sharenting: Are Parents Violating Kids’ Internet Privacy? | The Atlantic video, by Taylor Lorenz (YouTube link)


Three challenges for the web, according to its inventor | World Wide Web Foundation, by Sir Tim Berners-Lee
The web is under threat. Join us and fight for it. | World Wide Web Foundation, by Sir Tim Berners-Lee

An Apology for the Internet — From the Architects Who Built It | New York Magazine (NYMag): Intelligencer, by Noah Kulwin

Sean Parker unloads on Facebook | Axios, by Mike Allen
Sean Parker interviewed by Axios’ Mike Allen Wednesday (video)

‘The Internet Is Broken’: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It | The New York Times, by David Streitfeld


The nature of the self in the digital age, by Aral Balkan

Social-Media Outrage Is Collapsing Our Worlds | The Atlantic, by Conor Friedersdorf
The Costs and Benefits of Worlds Colliding | The Atlantic, by Conor Friedersdorf

Why Technology Favors Tyranny | The Atlantic, by Yuval Noah Harari

The Last Free Generation, by Austin G. Walters