In a column recently published by the Washington Post , a mother explained why she would continue to publish blog posts about her daughter, despite protests from her daughter. She said that, although the situation made her uncomfortable, she had not finished “exploring motherhood” in her writings.
One commenter lambasted parents who, like this author, “use their family’s daily dramas to make content.” Another said that this column brought up “a recurring trick question for parents in the Instagram era: will the posts we leave today on social networks later harm our children?” ”
These questions seem legitimate to me, I have published research on the need for parents to ensure the protection of the privacy of their children online. I agree with the critics who criticize the woman for being deaf to the concerns of her child.
However, I think that extending these attacks to all parents and their behavior on social networks is inappropriate.
I have been studying this subject for six years . Too often, public discourse pits parents against children. Parents, critics say, are narcissistic when they post blog posts or photos on Facebook and Instagram. They are ready to invade the privacy of their children in exchange for the attention and “likes” of their friends. At least, that’s what they say.
But framing the issues in the form of a face-to-face meeting between parents and children conceals a more important problem: that of the economic logic of these networks which take advantage of information from their subscribers.
Despite the lively reactions that sharing on social networks can provoke, the phenomenon is nothing new. People have written their daily lives in diaries or albums for centuries. Products like baby newspapers explicitly encourage parents to keep track of their children’s daily lives.
Communication specialist Lee Humphreys sees this drive to document and share the lives of their children as a sort of “media accounting” . Day after day, parents play different roles: those of child, partner or companion, parent, friend, or colleague. Humphreys argues that one way to fulfill these roles is to document them. Revisiting their memories can help people shape their self-awareness, build a coherent life story and feel connected to others.
If you have already leafed through an old directory, a grandparent’s travel album or a historical figure, then you have consulted reports. It’s the same thing when you browse the archives of a blog or the timeline of Facebook. Social media is certainly new media but the fact of transcribing one’s daily life is as old as the world.
Writing online can help parents express themselves creatively and connect with other parents. Reporting on their daily lives can also allow them to better invest their identity as parents.
Surveillance capitalism in the equation
In this context, we understand that it is delicate to ask them to stop talking about their children on the web. This desire to tell rhythms people’s social life, and this for a long time.
But doing it on blogs and social networks raises special questions. Photos in family albums do not broadcast digital data and are only visible when you decide to show them, while Instagram images are hosted on servers owned by Facebook and can be viewed by anyone viewing your profile. .
It is important to take into account the opinions of the children and, if a young person objects to his daily life being shared, parents can turn to paper newspapers or classic photo albums. They can also take other steps to protect their child’s privacy, such as using a pseudonym or giving them a “veto” over content posted online.
However, these debates around privacy and sharing often focus on the audience of social networks, “followers” or “friends”. They tend to ignore what data companies do. It is not with social networks that parents began to tell the story of their family life, but these supports have profoundly changed the conditions in which they do so.
Unlike what used to be the diaries, photo albums and personal videos of yesteryear, blog posts, images on Instagram and YouTube videos are owned by business platforms and may be visible by property more people than parents realize.
The problem depends less on parents than on social networks. These platforms operate more and more according to an economic logic that the business specialist Soshana Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism . They produce goods and services to generate huge amounts of data about individuals, to use it to generate patterns, and then to use it to influence people’s behavior.
Why would this necessarily be so? In his book on media stories, Lee Humphreys recalls that at its inception, Kodak was content to develop the photo films entrusted by its customers.
“Although Kodak processed millions of photos, the company did not share information from these consumers with advertisers in exchange for any access to their customers … In other words, Kodak did not instrumentalize its users. “
This is precisely what social networks do. Sharing content tells them what your child looks like, where he was born, what he likes to do, when he reaches a certain stage in his life. These platforms aim at an economic model based on the knowledge of the users (sometimes deeper knowledge than that which they have of themselves) and the use of this information for other purposes.
In this context, the problem is less with the fact that parents talk about their children online than with the fact that the spaces where they do are owned by companies that want to access the smallest space in their lives. From this point of view, it is the question of the protection of privacy that arises above all.
Author Bio: Priya C. Kumar is a PhD Candidate in Information Studies at the University of Maryland