My dog was the first to go. After decades of quarantining my private life, last year I cautiously started posting the occasional photo of him online. I know this sounds absurd. He’s a dog. Who cares. Some people have entire websites devoted to their children or post thousands of family photos on Facebook.
So by relinquishing some of my dog’s privacy (I cannot believe I just wrote ‘my dog’s privacy’), what exactly was I worried about? That he was going to end up on some puppy porn site? Wait, I never thought of that… No, I think I just feared the slippery slope that leads from posting a photo of your pet to live-tweeting your pap smear. The collapse of all boundaries. Because isn’t that how it begins?
Until recently, only famous people had to make decisions about which parts of their lives were public and private. Will you be photographed with your kids, Nicole and Keith? Does your daughter have a boyfriend, President Obama? How about a snap of your adopted baby son, Charlize?
Now we all have to make the public/private call every time we share something online. Collectively, our privacy is leaking. And we’re the leakers. As someone who published a deeply personal memoir, writes this newspaper column, is on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest and runs a website it may shock you to learn I have boundaries. Here they are: (1) I never publish photos of my family. (2) I don’t allow my kids to be photographed for any media.(3) I don’t write about anyone close to me in a way that could embarrass, offend or identify them.
And yet…..my boundaries are becoming porous. First, the dog. Then last year, I agreed to let The Australian Women’s Weekly photograph me at home with my kids. My husband was bemused. “Why would do you that?” he asked, genuinely puzzled after hearing me refuse similar requests for more than a decade. “They’re so much a part of who I am,” I shrugged. “To portray myself without them wouldn’t be the full picture. It’s time.”
Every person with access to broadband has wondered: where’s my privacy line? The answer is unclear because increasingly, other people are drawing that line for you. In each of the hundreds of points every day where your life intersects with another person, you both have a decision to make: what’s on the record and what’s off?
By agreeing to have your photo taken, are you giving tacit permission for it to go on Facebook? By meeting a friend for a drink, are you allowing them to mention it on Twitter? What are the rules? And how on earth do you turn up the privacy settings on your whole life?
One friend’s husband loathes Facebook. He doesn’t understand why anyone should know his business, let alone his son’s. He doesn’t want the boy’s photo online, insisting the 11 year old is too young to understand the consequences. Since my friend has her own blog, it’s been tricky to navigate. “First there were no pictures and no mention of his name,” she told me. “But I’m so proud of him, I want to sing his name from the roof. So I used it – and nothing happened. He became a person to my readers rather an object and I actually liked that. Then his friends started making Youtube videos and he wanted to join in. I allowed him on two conditions – no school uniform in the videos and Youtube comments had to be disabled. I don’t need anyone to know which school he goes to because that is too much information and the comments on Youtube are a cesspit and I don’t want him exposed to that.”
She’s adamant, however, that she doesn’t want him to be unduly scared to be online. “It’s an integral part of his world. He talks to his friends on Skype instead of the phone, he puts his activities on his Facebook page not his diary, he shares stuff he loves on Instagram and he creates websites instead of building things with Lego.” So she now posts images of her son on her blog and Facebook, “but I’m always careful about what he is wearing – one, for sickos and two for identification purposes. Right now, that’s my privacy line.”
This week I’ve fallen in love with Instagram -the iPhone app that lets you share photos with anyone who ‘follows’ you – and it’s made me reassess my boundaries once again. So far, I don’t post identifying photos of my family but many others do. One of my favourite people to follow is Jools Oliver – wife of Jamie. The Olivers have four kids under six and Jools photographs their life creatively and often hilariously. Still, I baulked the other day when I saw her 18 month old son naked in a pair of soccer boots with his bare bottom in plain view. It’s the kind of cute shot every parent takes but in this context, the intimacy startled me. ‘Don’t share so much!’ I thought, feeling like I’d unwittingly breached their son’s privacy. Then I remembered this generation of kids are shared online before they’re even born via ultrasound images on Facebook. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. It certainly makes my dog anguish seem a little uptight…
What’s your privacy line? Do you post pictures of your family online? If you do, what precautions do you take to make sure it’s safe to do so?
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