Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who's Afraid of Facebook?

My best friend from college got married last fall and I was asked to photograph the wedding.  It was a small affair and I had some time to chit chat during the reception.  I was talking to childhood friends of the bride and the subject drifted to children and because I was wielding a huge camera, the topic then turned to the many ways we share photos of our kids.

Disguised, so as to throw off internet predators.
Well, I thought that was where the small talk was leading, but apparently I had veered off into Terror Town.  This friend of a friend unleashed her paranoia on me as matter-of-factly as a mother might speak about juggling chainsaws or drinking Drano. Posting photos on the internet was bad, downright dangerous.  This woman went on to say that she didn't even have a picture of herself on her facebook profile, let alone photographs of her children. I was stunned. I just stopped talking. I had been one sentence away from exposing myself as the worst mother in the history of all mothers (in her eyes anyway). I considered the bride's feelings and shut my mouth.

As much as I dismissed this irrational fear of internet predators, I also dwelled on it. I couldn't understand what she was so afraid of her. Cryptically, she had mentioned her husband worked "in technology" and that "he knows what's out there."  What is out there exactly? Was I being naive? It gnawed at me for a long time.  I meant to do some research and then I got distracted by the holidays and before I knew it I was putting my child in peril AGAIN by posting dozens of photos of her opening presents at various locations.

Facebook is all over the news now with its privacy issues and it has reminded me that I need to figure out his internet fear puzzle.  I didn't think the privacy settings were that confusing, but whatever. I also have never had any illusions about what facebook's ultimate goal is: To sell shit. Do you think fb is really free? NO. It takes hundreds of employees to keep the site operating smoothly.  Facebook needs to sell stuff to you and they do that by using all of the information that you have so graciously provided them.  It is no different than Amazon and her relentless and eerily accurate suggestions for what you might like to buy next.

I don't mean to be glib. We should all stay vigilant about what information we share on the intertubes, but unless you walk around in a ski mask 24/7 your face is already public information. When someone sees you coming out of your house in the morning they assume you live there. They can see the license plate on your car and if they wanted to they could climb under it and get the VIN number and learn all sorts of information about you. I'm not suggesting that we all post our address and phone number on facebook, but consider this.  The guy who sees you leave for work every morning is way more likely to do you or your family harm than some stranger who lands on your internet profile. Period.

“There is this characterization of pedophiles using the Internet as an L. L. Bean catalog, but this is not the way it happens,” says Prof. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

Still not convinced? This is straight from The National Center for Victims of Crime:

  • Strangers are the least likely perpetrators of sexual assault against children in cases reported to law enforcement: 3 percent of the youngest victims ages five and under, 5 percent of six- to eleven-year-olds, and 10 percent of teen victims were sexually assaulted by strangers. 

Of course, some people are just skeeved by the idea of someone stealing images of their kids and doing weird stuff with them. The infamous (largely harmless) Brazilian teenage fad of making fake profiles on Orkut comes to mind.  Digital photos are easy to take, easy to share and easy to steal. You wanna go back to film? I didn't think so. 

Listen, I have been sharing photos of my child online since she was a baby. Nothing has ever happened. NOTHING. Am I lucky? Hell yeah!  But statistically, it would seem that I am no more lucky than any other parent who has never had a child abducted or abused. Putting my daughter's photo on facebook, or this blog, carries no more risk than a trip to the playground, maybe even less.

Some other people have given this subject some thought. It's a big subject. Read up. You might need to defend your laissez faire security protocol with a paranoid well-meaning busy body.

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