From the moment many of us leave the womb, images of our infant selves get posted on Facebook and other social media. Once out and about, they become part of our permanent digital footprint, often soon to be joined by photos at every stage of life – crawling, first steps, puppy hugging, first day of kindergarten and so on.
This accumulated visual record can be embarrassing or damaging in later life. It’s long past time to reconsider all this public sharing.
You don’t even have to be out of the womb to have your picture making the internet rounds. Expectant parents are posting fetus ultrasounds.
One site, Babylist, uses this medical imaging as the featured image on a registry for baby toys, blankets and brand-name strollers. The parents-to-be list the items with the prices and sellers (Amazon, Walmart and so on). Just click the box. Fetuses are now prenatal marketers.
There have long been debates on the wisdom of putting children’s pictures online without the children’s permission. Of course, children, much less fetuses, are not intellectually equipped to decide what about them should be made public.
Some of this material could come to haunt them. Not everyone finds pictures of toddlers with chocolate cake smeared around their mouth adorable. Even worse are videos of little kids punching other little kids or throwing tantrums, which, believe it or not, some parents put online.
They may be pose serious problems for the children when they apply for a job 18 years hence. At the very least, they could be used to humiliate or blackmail the subject.
Questions of legality and privacy aside, are pictures of children you don’t know really that interesting? Of more concern are twisted adults putting the images to unwanted uses or even trying to seek out the children.
(Dear Boomer: Your grandbaby is cute, but so are all babies. Second birthday parties are especially boring. The baby doesn’t care, so the point in your posting these visuals is to draw attention to yourself. If you are hungry for “likes,” why don’t you share pictures of you on your fabulous beach vacation?)
One advantage of being older is that that there were less or no social media when we were in our teens, hungry for attention and not always possessing good judgment. I, for one, am glad that my adolescent self didn’t have TikTok, on which I could post self-incriminating videos.
Even the innocent TikTok dances could be problematic down the road. Imagine the case in which someone is seeking a seat on the Supreme Court, and their political enemies find and use these silly little videos to cast doubts on the candidate’s gravitas.
Meanwhile, a lot of things young adults put on TikTok are not entirely innocent. YouTube, for example, features compilations of attention-grabbing posts, such as the “Best Cute Relationship TikToks.” It shows young couples displaying affection, nothing pornographic, but some quite suggestive and involving beds. A pictorial record of passionate kissing could also complicate future relationships.
At least that video is fairly wholesome. There are compilations of sexy TikToks where young women are twerking and shaking their cleavage as well as booty. These ladies may not be headed for the corporate C-suite, but this kind of thing could imperil a job as a store manager or doctor’s assistant. It could also ruin any later attempt to recast themselves as fine-mannered women of dignity.
Who among us doesn’t have an unflattering headshot, gawky high school picture or gag photo of us clowning around? With any luck, the worst of them are hidden in drawers or pasted in albums (if they haven’t been ripped up). The ones online, alas, we’re stuck with for eternity.
Froma Harrop is a nationally syndicated columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.