When children understand that their whole life is already online
Google’s search for information about itself has become a rite of passage
For several months, Kara has been brave enough to talk with her mother about what she saw on Instagram. Not so long ago, this 11-year-old girl - whom we, like the other children in this story, will call a fictitious name - discovered that her mother uploads her photos without her permission, and this has been happening for most of her life. “I wanted to talk about it. It’s very strange to see your photos on the Internet, and I didn’t like some of them, ”she says.
Like most modern children, Kara grew up being immersed in social networks. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube appeared before her birth. Instagram has been working since she was a baby. And if many children do not yet have their own accounts, then their parents, schools, sports teams and other organizations could maintain their online presence from birth. The shock of the fact that the details of your life - and in some cases all its smallest details - are laid out on the Internet without your consent or knowledge, has become one of the main events in the life of many teenagers and younger children.
Recently, a woman raising a child and blogging wrote an article on the subject in the Washington Post. Her 14-year-old daughter was horrified to find that her mother, the author of the article, had been sharing very personal stories and other information from her daughter’s life with the Internet for years, but the blogger simply couldn’t force herself to stop adding blog posts and social networks. The author of the article said that promising her daughter to stop making public posts about her on the Internet is like “abandoning a vital part of herself, and this does not necessarily serve me or her well.”
However, it’s not only bloggers who are too zealous to create the online identity of their children; many average parents do this. In English, they even came up with the word wallet for this:sharenting [ from share - sharing, and parenting - parenting / approx. perev. ]. In almost a quarter of children, digital life today begins with the fact that their parents upload an ultrasound image to the Internet, as indicated in the study.conducted by AVG, an Internet security company. It was also found that 92% of infants under two years of age already have their own digital identity. “Today, parents create the digital identity of their children long before the children can open their first email. And everything that parents discover online, of course, will follow the children into their mature age, ”the Levin College of Law at Florida University announces. “Parents simultaneously serve as custodians of their children's personal information and storytellers of their personal stories.”
Kindergartens and elementary schools often blog or upload photos of children to their Instagram and Facebook accounts so that parents at work feel as if they are taking part in the lives of their children. Sports achievements are recorded online, as well as remarkable moments in the life of extracurricular clubs.
When Helen, who was 11 years old, decided to search Google for information about herself, she did not expect to find absolutely everything, because she did not yet have her social media accounts. She was amazed to find her swimming results over many years and other sports statistics. The work she wrote in third grade was also posted on the school’s website and signed by her name. “I didn’t think that I would end up like this on the Internet,” she told me.
Helen said that although she did not find anything too scrupulous or personal, she was upset that all the information about her had been published without her consent.
“No matter what you do, it is already publicly available,” she said. - Even if you just swam in the pool, the rest of the world will know about it. My achievements are posted on the site, and now everyone knows that I am swimming. You can find information about the pools on the Internet, so as a result you can determine my approximate location. From here you can display information about my school. Some of my online documents are written in Spanish, and now people know that I speak Spanish. ”
Ellie was in fourth grade when she first searched for herself on Google. Like Helen, she did not expect to find anything, because she did not have her own social media account. Google found a few photos, but she was still very surprised that there was anything at all. She immediately got an idea about the image that her mother created for her on Instagram and on Facebook. “My parents kept notes about me all the time,” she said. “And I didn’t mind this, and then I realized that I was making an impression and that my identity is now also online, through her page.”
Not all children react negatively to the unexpected discovery of their online life. It pleases some. In the fourth grade, Nate looked for his name and found that he was mentioned in the news about how they made a giant burrito in the third grade. “I did not know,” he said. - I was very surprised". But he liked this discovery. “I felt famous. I can meet new friends by saying: Oh, they wrote about me in the newspaper, ”he said. Since then, he searches for himself on Google every few months, hoping to find something.
Natalie, now 13, said that in the fifth grade she and her friends competed who would find more information about themselves on the Internet. “It seemed really cool to find our photos online,” she said. - We boasted about how many people have pictures on the Internet. You look for yourself and find: Wow, it's you! We were shocked to learn that we are on the Internet. We thought: Wow, we are real people. ”
Natalie's parents strictly adhere to the rule not to post her photos on social networks, so there are few of her photos on the Internet, but she wants more. “I do not want to live in a hole so that I have only two photos online. I want to be a real person. I want people to know who I am, ”she said.
Kara and other children from 8 to 12 years old say they hope to agree on rules of conduct with their parents. Kara wants her mother to warn her next time that she wants to write something about her, and that her daughter should have the right of veto to upload any photo. “My friends are constantly writing or telling me, such as:“ Wow, this picture is with you, which your mother laid out, very nice, ”and I immediately start to get embarrassed,” she said. Hayden, 10 years old, said that a few years ago, parents used a special hashtag to photograph him. Now he tracks him to make sure that they are not posting anything shameful.
After the children realize that their life is accessible to all for study, there is no turning back. Several teenagers and children from 8 to 12 years old told me that this served as an incentive to create their own profile in social networks in order to gain control over their image. But many other children take it too close to their hearts and become locked in themselves. Helen said that every time someone next to her takes out a phone, she worries that he can take her picture and put it somewhere. “Everyone is constantly following each other, nothing is forgotten, nothing is lost,” she said.
To help children understand this issue, more primary schools in the US are starting digital literacy programs.. Jane, seven years old, said she found out about her presence on the Internet, in particular from her school presentation on online security. Her father also warned her about social networks and gave her the opportunity to approve every photo before posting.
And yet, Jane - who, like all the other children, talked to me with parental permission - is worried. She is too small to use the Internet on her own, but she already thinks that a lot of information on the Internet related to her is beyond her control. “I don’t like that other people know different things about me, but I don’t know these people,” she said. “There are thousands or even millions of things.” Andy, seven years old, always follows people who can take an unsightly photo with him. Once he caught his mother as she tried to photograph him while he was sleeping, and then when he performed a stupid dance. He immediately asked her not to post it on Facebook, and she did not. He found these photographs shameful.
Some lawmakers are also involved. In 2014, the European Supreme Court ruled that Internet service providers are required to give people the right to oblivion. According to this decision, Europeans can send a request that the information harmful to them, including crimes committed before adulthood, be removed from Google’s search results. In France, tough privacy laws allow children to sue their parents for publishing intimate or personal details of their life without their knowledge. In the United States, children and adolescents do not have such protection, and many simply try to behave very carefully. “One must definitely live with caution,” Helen said.
Jamie Putnam, a mother from Georgia, said that she began to think more often that many of her children's friends did not yet suspect how much information about them was on the Internet. Recently, in social networks, she saw that one of her child’s friends got a puppy. The next time she met him, she mentioned this, and the child was terrified. He did not understand how she knew this seemingly personal information. “And then I realized that these children can’t imagine what’s appearing on the Internet all the time,” she said. Now she carefully approaches disclosure of details. “It feels like you're going too far when you tell everyone everything you know about them.”