This issue has never been more important to me.
Alec Couros recently wrote a post about a very disturbing experience he had with someone viewing pictures of his daughter on Flickr. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s an excellent piece, and I’d strongly recommend you read it first before proceeding here.
The story absolutely sickens and saddens me. It also gives me pause to consider how I want to handle the online presence of my baby who is mere weeks away from entering this world. How will I best protect my child, while still giving him or her the opportunity to engage in community and collaboration in a world growing ever smaller and more connected?
I can tell you, it certainly won’t be the way some of those who expressed their opinions in the comments of Alec’s blog would like for me to proceed. I’m quite frankly dumbfounded at several of the comments. For example, Stephen Downes writes:
“The thing is, you can’t hide.
The threat to children is as great – indeed, greater – from close family and friends as it is from strangers.
Creating a climate of fear in which everyone hides their kids simply creates a safe haven for those people, and a
prison for their children.
Openness is not the enemy.
Openness is what protects these kids.
Openness is what draws people out into the open, like those Flickr photo collectors (you can be sure they are
known to police, or at least, that they should be).
And openness is what allows you – and others – to talk to your kids, to give them the tools to protect them from
danger, to given them the knowledge and the empowerment to stand up to those people whether they are total
strangers or close family.
That’s my view, at least.”
With all due respect, Stephen, I don’t call protecting my child “hiding”. I call it using wise judgement. Now please understand me, I’m an ardent advocate for openness and maintaining an online presence. My child will certainly interact with others and learn from the world online. That doesn’t mean, however, that I blindly and blithely let him or her walk unfettered in a world where Alec’s experience is one of the more mild abuses that occurs.
What about those who do suffer abuse as a direct result of what we’re discussing here? If it were my child, would I look him or her square in the eyes and say, “I’m so sorry honey, but I had to do it. It was for the cause of openness”? Is it worth the risk? Would I put them right back out there to get exploited again if it did happen?
It simply doesn’t make sense. Yes, we can live in a world of openness, but we can also use intelligent discretion as well. I do wonder if those who are so vehemently advocating for openness also leave their doors unlocked at night or drop off their children to houses of people they don’t know. There could certainly be someone out there who would want to come into my house in the middle of the night and just admire the cuteness that will be my sleeping child, but does that mean I owe it to them to keep my house unlocked and available for the nefarious as well?
So the openness that allowed the abuse to occur is the very thing that serves to protect our children? That notion is simply naive.
I commented on the post essentially explaining that I did not agree with Downes, and that while openness can certainly be beneficial on many levels, I believe operating with complete openness is not the absolute solution.
Later in the comments, Dean Shareski says,
“I’m curious about Ben’s comments. To me it reflects much of the fear that people have subjected to in our world.
I remember after the London bombings the website, We Are Not Afraid. That’s how I want to live which is not to
say we don’t do due diligence to protect our kids but not at the expense of the great benefits. Specifically, I’ve
made private a few photos of my kids in bathing suits that might be used nefariously but at some point, as you’ve
experienced, there’s a weirdo out there for everything.”
The reaction to the London bombings and the reaction to a predator abusing your child are two entirely different things. Terrorists seek to terrorize. To inflict fear and panic among a society so as to break down a system they oppose. Child predators seek to indulge their own desires. They don’t care about people’s panic. If we send the message to terrorists that we are not afraid by going about the very business they tried to disrupt, we’re making a statement that they did not impact us. If we do the same with our children and put them back in a compromising position, the only statement we’re making is to invite potential harm where it can certainly be avoided.
Dean does make reference to the fact that there are certain pictures he chooses to protect. That simple statement says it all to me. He’s using his judgment to protect what he so dearly loves. It shows discretion, and it acknowledges that there is a threshold in all of this.
I believe this issue comes down to weighing the benefits versus the risks. As I mentioned above, I will absolutely have my child interact with the world online. I will not entirely shelter or imprison her from what is clearly a powerful chance to engage learning, but I will, however, use my best judgment when thinking of what is in the best interest of my child. In the end, does posting pictures of my child serve to really benefit her, or does it do more to serve my own purposes at the cost of denying her the opportunity to one day shape her own online identity entirely? Can’t I be satisfied sharing her images with people I know and trust until the day comes when she can make the decision for herself? I think, personally, I can.
Thanks to D’Arcy Norman for the Flickr image.