My decision to shield her from the internet took place the day she was born after I'd spent hours holding her in my hands, staring down with eyes stinging from tears. I'd intended to broadcast the news of her birth to all who cared to see, so elated was I at her arrival. Thankfully, this is the modern age, so I didn't have to go knocking on every door in the land to announce my joy: I had a 5.5-inch megaphone in my left pocket.
In the run-up to her birth, I'd imagined myself as one of those Cool Parents on Twitter(™) who are publicly deprecating about their kids. The Ryan Reynoldses and Chrissy Teigens of this world who demonstrate that, despite having kids, they remain arch, hip and cool. I'd even planned (remember Vine?) to mark the occasion and demonstrate how hi-larious I am. While cradling my baby girl in my arms -- this tiny, blind, fragile creature taking her first lungfuls of breath -- I would stage-whisper "I fucked your mom*" into her ear.
Hey, don't judge me -- mixing solemnity with arch-juvenalia is funny, as are "your mom" jokes. I wound up shooting the clip, by the way, but at the last minute decided that I wouldn't share it with the internet. I'm glad I didn't, because the way that things are going, exposing any aspect of ourselves online should come with a health warning.
Not only is there an issue of respecting the privacy of minors, but how those images will affect their lives when they're all grown up. Not long after my daughter was born, I interviewed a woman who learned first-hand the cost of being "out there" in the digital sphere. As a student, she'd fallen asleep at a party, and her mischief-making friends had balanced objects on her in a game of human Buckaroo. That in itself was fine, but when her employees found her Facebook profile years later, it wound up damaging her career.
Then there's the story of the 18-year-old Austrian who took her parents to court to get them to redact unflattering photos of her on Facebook. She felt as if her privacy had been violated by their constant "sharenting" of images as a child.
You hear a lot of talk about "culture wars," but the internet seems more suited to a series of pointless guerrilla skirmishes. Any personal information can and will be weaponized if you find yourself becoming a target. Canadian video-games journalist Veerender Jubbal, a Sikh, took a selfie in the bathroom that wound up being photoshopped to show him wearing an explosive device. The image was then circulated around the web, suggesting that he was behind the Paris terror attacks.
These days, it is so easy to take something, strip it of its original context and broadcast it with whatever attribution you see fit. People don't stop to think before sharing, and pernicious, false ideas so easily take hold, like so many memes. By limiting the amount of information and data available, you guard against such future harm in countless ways.
This is the only evidence that my daughter exists that is online, and that's the way I want to keep it.
Then there's the fact that it's now so easy to find everyone's dirty laundry just by Googling them, which can also be weaponized. I'm reminded of the post-facto social-media autopsies carried out on Trevor Noah and Jon Rudnitsky when they scored high-profile jobs. That's not to defend their prior actions -- but simply to say that people grow up, and the shit you do as a kid shouldn't be held against you as an adult.
By the time my rugrat is able to get online, it's likely that every single opinion of hers -- from the quality of vegetables through to Minecraft -- will be recordable. Then, imagine what'll be like two decades later, when she's trying to navigate a world in which our youthful indiscretions and mistakes are available with just a few taps of a keyboard? The smart and sensible thing to do is to simply keep all of that stuff away from prying eyes, so nobody can use it against you in the future.
The rules that we use are pretty common sense, but it requires you to have a short chat with your family members and close friends. First up, don't post any images of your kid to social media, and request that others do not as well. Second, make sure that nobody asks after them by name, or references life events, such as their birthday, online. Third, any sharing must be done behind a private messenger client, and while Telegram would be my preference, WhatsApp is still the de facto standard with the family.
Unfortunately, at parties, you will become one of those tedious middle-class bores that patronizingly asks strangers not to share pictures of your kid. But given what the alternative is, it's a small price to pay to avoid making their life a misery two decades in the future.
* I'm English, so I would have said mum rather than mom in the video.