For better or worse social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs and so on—has become an inescapable part of our everyday lives. It permeates our Internet experience and increasingly our real-world experiences too. It's harder and harder to separate our real-world profile from our digital lives.
Why does it matter? Because, whatever platform you use, your digital profile is increasingly important to your real-world profile.
A new baby is born—and thus their digital profile begins
I've just had a baby (yes, he's delightful and cute, and deprives us of sleep, like all newborns), and this life change has prompted me to think about our baby's 'digital profile'.
For a baby a digital profile comprises of comments about the child (whether it's a mum's vent or a dad's proud 'first soccer game' post) as well as photos. For the time being, I'm thinking mainly about photos.
Approaching the digital profile
There's a spectrum people fall on when it comes to social media and their children. Their place on the spectrum can also reflect their attitude to their own digital profile, and is something all social media users need to consider—whether we've thought about it deliberately before it or not.
There's the all-or-nothing approach. No holds barred; any photo is OK to post, and posting can happen frequently. Some people's baby albums are much fuller on Facebook than they ever will be in real life!
Or there's the nothing-and-never approach. No photos and no mention of baby until such time as they can choose for themselves what their digital profile will be.
I wonder, where do you fall on this spectrum?
The all or nothing approach
Of course there are pros and cons to each approach. The all-or-nothing approach can help people—especially distant family members—feel very involved and connected to their niece/nephew or granddaughter/grandson. The person posting (often Mum) can be filling a need for connection. Days at home with children can be long and isolating—reaching out on Facebook is one way to seek connection with other people and doesn't require a mammoth effort of leaving the house.
However, the downside to the all-or-nothing approach is whether it is respecting the right of the child. After all, once something is posted on the Internet, it's downright impossible to remove it. So parents (and indeed, everyone) should really be thinking hard about each photo they post: would they be happy with anyone seeing it? Future employers? Partners? Work colleagues? The baby-covered-in-poo photo might be hilarious now (or not...) but maybe save it for the 21st birthday party, when only a select group of people will see it in person, and it's not etched on their digital profile forever.
The silent profile
The nothing-and-never approach gives the child the right to choose what photos will be available and when. Connection with distant (and close) family and friends must be done more deliberately, perhaps through a private group, or email updates upon request.
Shielding your child (and even yourself) from having any digital profile is hugely difficult and takes forethought and communication with others who might post things with—or without—your permission.
Like anything, I don't think Facebook (or social media in general) is, in and of itself, inherently evil or good. It simply is—what matters is how we use it. Much like anything: our money, our material possessions, our time and so on.
Here are some thoughts I've had about managing our son's digital profile. This may be useful—even in thinking about your own digital profile.
Manage friends and privacy settings
How many friends do you have on Facebook? And how many of these are actually friends, rather than acquaintances? You can separate people into lists and thus control which group sees what posts. It's also worth checking whether your posts are visible to public, friends of friends, or friends only. Consider whether your pictures are able to be shared by people you may not know.
As much as I love taking millions of photos, I try not to post more than twice a day. If I want to share more, then I'll do it with particular family members more directly in a text message or an email.
Keep the potentially embarrassing pictures offline
They're great for 21sts, but the child will thank you for respecting them as a person who is given a choice about who has access to their less-than-flattering moments.
Err on the side of caution
If in doubt, keep it out, especially if you have a moment where you need to vent. How horrible would it be if your child/friend/family member could go back and see a time you complained about how irritating they were being? A passing moment is irreversibly etched into digital memory.
Use your judgement and wisdom
Put yourself in the shoes of your child. Act in love by choosing what's best for them, not what you feel like posting at the time. In short, use the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
Whether you think about this in regards to your own digital profile or someone dependent on you, it's worth taking the time to consider how you will build your—or your child's—digital, and by extension, real life profile in this digital age.
Sarah Urmston lives in Melbourne with her husband, Stephen. Having worked in public relations and communications as well as university student ministry, she's now getting used to the title of 'stay at home mum'.
Sarah Urmston's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sarah-urmston.html