real life

How your social media choices affect your loved ones.

Will Miranda Kerr’s baby son Flynn have a problem with this at his 21st?

Privacy has become a slippery little bugger. There’s so little of it left. But it’s not just being devoured by faceless corporations and airport body scanners. You know who’s most likely to breach your privacy? Someone who loves you. Your friend. Your partner. Your mother. Your cousin. Your flatmate. All well meaning. All potentially compromising.

I spent a lovely hour one night this week watching the birth video of a woman I’d never met. I was supposed to be writing this column but in the spirit of modern procrastination, I followed a link emailed by a friend and ended up on a blog belonging to a Brisbane woman who took photos of her child every day for a year. She wrote that it helped her see her daughter “in a different way” and they were indeed gorgeous, interesting photos. The birth video was an added extra. I cried. I may have also ovulated.

I loved the site but another friend included on the same email felt uneasy. She liked the photos but was concerned by how easily she’d been given intimate access into a stranger’s life. “What about the choice of the child?” she asked. “As parents, do we automatically have the right to put our kids’ lives online? What will she say when she’s 21…. or even 10?” Another friend disagreed: “If the worst thing in your life is that your parents posted some photos of you dressed up as a frog or breastfeeding …. I mean, first world problems. “

This isn’t new, this desire to share. We’re just documenting our lives in different ways. Instead of diaries or scrapbooks or photo albums, we post pictures and blog and tweet. Social media is the modern version of cave paintings. The key difference is the scalability. Unlike the physical and geographic limitations of scrapbooks and caves, anyone anywhere can hop online. In fact, that’s the point. The more friends, followers, readers, the better. That’s how social media works.

The town square never shuts down in 2011. People are broadcasting details of their lives constantly and even if you’re not a broadcaster, every point in the day where your life intersects with another person who has an Internet connection, your privacy can be breached.

Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has recommended stronger laws to punish those who publish damaging images on social networking sites that could get someone fired, blacklisted by future employers or put them in physical danger. If you were a victim of such publication, you could sue that person for damages.

But that’s not what we’re talking about. The greater danger to your privacy is more innocuous and likely to come from someone who ISN’T trying to hurt or harm you at all. The opposite.

Privacy now comes in 1000 shades of grey and everyone’s line between private and public is different. And this is how someone’s privacy can be unexpectedly breached in a click.

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Choose to share a photo of yourself bleary eyed and tell the world about your hangover? Go for it. But what if your hung-over flatmate is also in the photo? And what if she called into work sick that day? Or skipped a family lunch under the pretence of having to study? And what if her co-worker or sister see it on Facebook and discovers she wasn’t sick or studying after all?

Heather Armstrong from Dooce.com

The most successful Mummy Blogger in the world is a woman called Heather Armstrong. Writing about her personal life for a decade, she’s learnt a thing or two about public vs. private. When Dooce.com first began, she was working as a graphic designer and was soon fired due to the indiscreet observations she made about her boss and colleagues.

This caused her to recalibrate her privacy line and now she only writes things that she’d be prepared to say to someone in front of 20 people. Smart. As for her kids, Heather is constantly asked whether she’s exploiting Marlo, 1 and Leta, 9, by writing about them and publishing their photos by the hundred.

Here’s her take: the experiences of babies and little kids belong to their parents because they’re pretty universal. All babies eat, sleep, cry, poo etc. All toddlers say cute things and put stupid things in their mouths and by sharing these stories online, new parents are simply replacing the village we’ve lost.

Heather says: “That’s why I feel like it’s okay to write so much about Marlo, because it’s the same story of a million other babies hopefully told in a way that we can all laugh about it enough to want to wake up tomorrow morning.”

She knows this to be true. After she wrote emotionally about how she was unravelling after having her first child, readers who had experienced post-natal depression told her she needed to seek help urgently. She did and credits the blog and those readers with saving her life. But as her elder daughter grows up and becomes more self-conscious, Heather has respected this and responded by writing about her almost never.

As for the exploitation question, she notes that all teenagers resent their parents for something. And if her girls’ ‘thing’ is that their mum loved them so much she chose to document it publicly then hey, she can live with that.

How much do you share online?  Do you put up photos of your friends and family ? Do you have boundaries that you will not cross or do you just put up what you think people will enjoy looking at ?

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