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September 11, 2008

Kids, Social Networks and Parent’s Responsibility

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I’ve been reading some disturbing things this morning about kids and social media and even though it’s not technically Internet marketing related, I feel like it’s worth talking about if only because I can’t get it out of my mind. And you, my friends, are my outlet.

The New York Times had an article this morning about Twittering from the Cradle, talking about parents who create social media accounts for their children in order to keep friends and relatives up-to-date on the monumental life achievements of their 10 month old. Because after all, this is what we’ve now succumbed to: Twittering, Facebook’ing and blogging everything that happens in our lives.

I’m being somewhat flip, but the truth is, I get it. If I was the mother of a 10-month-old baby, I’d probably be blogging about my little one’s first steps, trip to the zoo, first bath, etc. I get the allure; I just wonder how safe it is to be revealing all this information about your youngster. And I’m even more disturbed by the folks that blog and twitter and live as their infant. Attributing a mature personality, likes and dislikes, and feelings to someone too young to express their own thoughts or control their own movements. It’s like the weirdos that create a Dogster or Catser profile for their pet and then blog as if they’re the animal, barking about how stupid their owners are.

[Total Weirdo Disclosure: Bored at my old pre-Bruce Clay job, I once created a mortifying Catster profile for Swat which still lives on to remind me not to be such a social media idiot.]

But there’s a difference between creating a great dad blog and actually blogging as your baby. From the New York Times article:

“So much so that some early adopters have become ventriloquists for their children, even those too young to speak for themselves. With a quick glance at a cheerful profile, parents can also handpick their offspring’s playmates much like online daters choose companions.”

Hello, creepy.

It really, really concerns me to see young children’s lives documented online. As one of our newer writers expressed this morning (Hi, Paula!), it’s as if we’ve become so charmed by the idea of publishing to the Web that we’ve forgotten about safety. Or privacy. Or protecting that small being whose life we are now responsible for. If you want to blog about your baby’s trip to the park and share it with family and friends, I get that. I think it’s great that the Internet has allowed us this, but for God’s sakes be careful. Don’t reveal everything. Don’t make it easy for someone to track down your child. Don’t allow someone with bad intentions to be able to scout out your child’s pre-school and arm them with enough information about your family that they could convince a stranger that they know your kid. And then take them.

Obviously these parents have no malicious intent. They love their kids. No one doubts that, but we get so caught up in social media and the ability to share our lives that we forget about safety. When you can’t see who you’re writing to you’re likely to say things that you wouldn’t normally say. This includes both revealing too much information and forgetting that people have emotions and that you should consider the human element before writing or publishing anything.

Tamar Weinberg guest posted on the Bruce Clay blog back in August and wrote about social media relationships without a face. Part of her post touched on the lack of empathy that takes place when you’re writing about someone or something you don’t know. When you write without thinking and publish to the Web without giving it a second thought. There’s no greater example of that than the Rocky Mountain News reporter who spent yesterday livetweeting the funeral of a three-year-old who was tragically killed. Here’s a selection of some of the tweets you can find in that feed. Remember that we’re talking about a dead three-year-old boy here:

  • “family members shovel earth into grave”
  • “the father is sobbing over the casket. I loved him,’ he says. others are sobbing”, “people are viewing the body, which is lying in casket with teddy bear.”
  • “some people falling on knees to pray”

The lack of emotion present is startling. It’s unnerving. It’s disgusting. It’s unforgivable.

But the actions of that RMN reporter illustrate what happens when you remove emotion from real life and instead write/blog/speak about someone who is faceless to you. I wonder how that RMN reporter will live with him or herself knowing that they liveblogged the funeral of a dead kid and did it with such coldness that it was like neither the child nor the family were human.

Today is the seventh anniversary of 9/11. What if Twitter was around seven years ago? Can you imagine some of what we’d be reading? I’m glad that it wasn’t. There are some things that shouldn’t be blogged or put out there. The very private details of your child’s life and the funeral of a killed three-year-old are examples of such things.





One response to “Kids, Social Networks and Parent’s Responsibility”

  1. Mike Wilton writes:

    I loved this post. This is something I have been thinking a lot about as I see more and more youngsters popping up on sites like Twitter and Plurk. The problem with the internet and social media is that we let our guard down thinking that we are protected by the distance between one computer screen to another. What we fail to think about is that the computer receiving the information could be right down the street.

    In regards to the 9/11 remark, I actually think having something like twitter around at that time could have been an incredible insight into the tragedy. I know it sounds a bit morbid, but honestly we only saw the horror from the outside. Think of how much more we might know about the attacks with an inside perspective.



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