Digital Manners: Should the Kid Stay in the Picture? (Transcript)

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
Oct. 25 2011 11:29 AM

Don’t Post Pictures of My Kid on the Internet (Transcript)

Farhad Manjoo and Emily Yoffe debate: Is it OK to post pictures of other people’s kids online?   

Farhad Manjoo:  Should the kids stay in the picture?

Emily Yoffee: I'm Emily Yoffe, Slate's Dear Prudence advice columnist.

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Farhad: I'm Slate's technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo, and this is Manners for the Digital Age.

Emily:  Today’s question is from a listener who wonders if it is wrong to post group photos from a children’s birthday party without consulting the other parents. The listener writes, “Dear Emily and Farhad, about a year ago, a friend of mine became very upset when she saw me upload some group photos of our children to my blog and Facebook. She said that I should have asked permission before posting the photos and that she doesn’t want photos of her children on the Internet. I basically said that I was sorry that she was upset and that I would give the matter some thought. After all, the photos in question were from a birthday party and my own children were the focal point. I’ve been considering whether or not to blur her children’s faces or to not post them at all in an attempt to mend the breach. On the other hand, she never made an attempt to keep her kiddos out of the way of the camera, so how upset can she really be? Please tell me if I breached an etiquette line or if she’s just being paranoid.” Signed, a Photo’s Worth a Thousand Tags.”

We have something a little unusual today because, Farhad, the writer of the letter, whose name is Rose, is with us.

Farhad:  Wow, great.

Emily:  We can not only grill her, but at the end of our discussion, she can give us a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Rose, welcome.

Rose:  Hi.

Emily:  Let me just ask, is there any update to this situation? Is it all where it was? Are feelings getting more heated? Have you done anything?

Rose:  After her upset, I decided to not post any more photos to my blog, but I still upload them to Facebook. Every now and again, she grumbles to her husband, who grumbles to my husband, who grumbles to me. So I know that she’s getting more upset, and that eventually it’s going to come to a head.

Farhad:  Rose, you say in your letter that she told you she just doesn’t want photos of her children on the Internet. Did she offer a reason why? What’s her worry here?

Rose:  She didn’t offer a specific worry. She just said it was really rude of me and that I shouldn’t have done that without her permission and that she just doesn’t want them on the Internet.

Farhad:  You say that she may be being paranoid. I guess that suggests that she’s worried about stalkers or something. I just wonder what she might have offered, but I guess nothing.

Rose:  Well, we’ve known each other for years and she doesn’t have anything in her past that would make the Internet a particular worry of hers. But on the other hand, her own Facebook account has a fake name of “Profile” and a cartoon character picture. So maybe she’s one of those people who’s naturally kind of scared of the Internet.

Emily:  Which makes you wonder, “Why bother?”

Farhad:  Right.

Emily:  All right.  Farhad, why don’t you go first.

Farhad:  I think this woman is being paranoid. When I had a baby a year ago, I had a sense at first that I would try to keep him off the Internet. But that faded away pretty quickly. One of the things is that even if I tried to not post pictures of him, other people did.  I think that it was part of their joy over me and my wife having a baby and they were celebrating him.

I didn’t really feel right in stopping them. People taking pictures of children and posting them on the Internet is just part of childhood now and it’s really hard to stop, especially in a birthday party where you expect that part of what happens at a birthday party – one of the main things that goes on – is photos are taken. If there are so many people taking photos, you have to expect that your children are going to be on the Internet.

But on the other hand, I think that if Rose wants to maintain her friendship with this woman, I think what I would do is be polite if there’s not that many pictures involved here. I would not post them this time, but I would let the woman know that if she goes to an event like a birthday party, she should make it very clear and try to shield her children from the photos – do a Michael Jackson thing with the umbrella or something.

Unless she takes that proactive action, she should expect photos of her children are going to end up on the Internet.

Emily:  Well, my baby is now 15 and although I have written about my daughter, another part of me really wants to protect her privacy, even though what’s the privacy of a little kid? I don’t use her name. I don’t use photos of her on Facebook, not really because I’m paranoid, but I just think if someone doesn’t want their kid on the Interwebs for whatever reason – they’re archaic, they’re silly, whatever – they’re entitled to that. I do agree with you, Farhad, that things have changed so quickly that when photographs are being taken, there’s almost a tacit assumption, now, these will be spread for the world to see.

Frankly, I don’t understand the need to post for everyone, everything on Facebook. I was able to give images of my child to family members without having it be on the Internet.  So, Rose, my take on this is now that this woman has made her feelings clear, you say you can do a little technological fix and blur their faces. I would go ahead and do that.

I would say to her, “I understand your objection and, in the future, I will be very careful about keeping your kids out of the photos.”

Farhad:  But, Emily, do you think that in the future, it should be Rose’s job to make sure that this lady’s children aren’t in Rose’s photos, or should this woman try to protect them from the photos? If you go to a birthday party, it’s not only Rose that’s taking photos, but it’s every other parent and you’ve got to expect that some percentage of those people are going to post photos of their children on the Internet that might have this lady’s children in the background.

Emily:  Well, she’s got to loosen up a little because if the children are unidentified, what’s the danger there? But the woman has expressed her desire to keep her kids out of the photo. So, Rose, I think you should just try to keep them out or, “I’m going to be taking photos now, Marie. If you want to pull your kids aside, I don’t want to accidentally snap them because I’m going to put this on my Facebook page.” Just be as low-key as possible.

Farhad:  You mentioned something important which is that these children aren’t being identified. On Facebook, children don’t have profiles. They’re not supposed to have profiles if they’re under 13.  This is not going to be associated with their name in any way. It’s not going to be searchable. I really don’t see what the worry is here. I am saying that you should respect her views, but I think they’re a little silly.

I also think that there’s a benefit. I post photos of my son on my Facebook page where I have a lot of friends who I don’t know. I like seeing the comments in response about the photos of my child and I like the fact that my relatives in South Africa get to see pictures of him. The benefit here is greater than the potential and pretty theoretical harm that could come of this.

Emily:  But I don’t think you have to come up with an elaborate justification that you’d prefer to keep your kids’ photos not widely disseminated.

Farhad:  I agree that you don’t have to come up with an elaborate justification, but I do think that you shouldn’t inconvenience other people. If you take a specific photo of my children, it’s easy for me to say, “Don’t post that photo.” But if my children are at an event that is going to be photographed and posted on the Internet, then I don’t think you should be able to inconvenience those people or make them do a lot of things like blur their photos in order to please you. In this case, I do think Rose should do so because it’s not such a huge inconvenience to her and it would be nice.

Emily:  All right, Rose. We haven’t helped you at all, have we?

Rose:  You’ve definitely given me a lot to think about. I think you’re both right. I’m glad to see that Farhad agrees that she should have taken a proactive approach and kept her kids out of the picture. But it’s nice to see that it wouldn’t be too much of a measure just to capitulate this once for the sake of this one relationship where something’s already gone wrong in this situation. I know now in the future that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I just said, “Okay. I’m taking pictures. Don’t want your kids in? Move them out of the way.”

Emily:  That sounds great, yeah. This is a technological issue, but what’s happened here is a very human issue. How do you repair this relationship? If you go ahead and you’re the big one and you don’t say, “Well, because you’re a paranoid nut, I will.” You just say, “You know what? I hear what you’re saying and I’m going to make this fix so you’re more comfortable.”

And if you think that she might be open to talking about what her fears are, it sounds like you’re technologically savvy and could discuss why you think it’s okay, you might have a productive discussion there.  I would encourage that.

Emily:  That’s a very good idea, Farhad. Thanks so much for calling.

Farhad:  Yeah. Thanks a lot.

Rose:  Thank you, guys.

Emily:  Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age.  Our address is digitalmanners@slate.com.

Farhad:  You can also join our Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week. Go to Facebook.com/digitalmanners.

Emily:  We’ll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age. 

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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