Let me start by saying I’ve never aspired to be Miss Manners.
That is not to say that I find fault with Miss Manners. In fact, I used to read her column religiously. What I mean is that I never intended to pretend to be an arbiter of what is “right” and “wrong” to do. In fact, there is no real right and wrong most of the time; most of it is just shades of gray.
The explosion of social media over the past decade has enabled us to connect with people we had lost touch with years ago, meet people we’d never have been able to before, and form new and strong friendships. It’s also enabled us to stick our collective feet in our mouths. Over. And over. And over.
There are tons of resources out there for brands and businesses that don’t want to violate social media etiquette (#smetiquette, if you will), but what about the rest of us? Regular people who aren’t trying to insult or offend our friends, or who are faced with, let’s say, difficult, conversations unfolding in front of them.
I polled some friends to get some initial questions to kick off a new series, which I’ll publish each Monday: Dear Amy. Please feel free to submit your own questions:
We see why you might be confused. Everyone shares everything on social media now, right? And you don’t have any problems putting photos of your children online, so that’s probably normal, right?
Wrong and wrong.
Ask 10 people, and I’m pretty sure you’ll get 10 different ideas about what portions of their lives they want public. At least 10. Maybe 20. Some people start blogs for their children starting at the first sonogram. Others so seldom post anything about their children that you might forget they have any at all.
Take myself, for example. I live my life very publicly. It’s no secret I have two children and am married. I very rarely put photos of my boys online, however. While their names are no secret, the only time I post their names online are in posts on Facebook that I’ve set visible to “Friends” only. I am under no illusion that this makes these posts private — after all, nothing online truly is — but I prefer to keep a closer watch on what goes online relating to my children.
That said, we have friends we trick-or-treat with every year. We each generally post a group photo on Facebook for family and friends each year. But we gate those photos for friends only and we tag one another so we know when it goes up. We don’t have to ask each time, because we’ve done this before and if either of us had a problem, we’d let the other know.
Besides a bit of a protective Mother Hen feeling, I also am very aware of their digital footprint, and I want them to be able to control it once they’re old enough (with my oversight, of course — and trust me, they’ll be getting a bunch of “Don’t be stupid” lessons in what they should and should not be sharing online).
That’s me. I have plenty of friends whose avatars include their children or are their children. And that is fine. That is their choice. Is my choice the right one? Yes. For me. Does that make their choices wrong? No, because it is their choice. But that’s exactly it — it’s their choice. You shouldn’t be posting photos of their children where all the world can see if you haven’t checked with them first.
You are not exempted from this if you are a relative. In fact, as a relative, you should be even more cognizant of the fact that you should check with the parents. Being a relative does not make you a proxy for the parent. It is the parent’s choice and parent’s choice only whether their children’s photos should be posted online.
When in doubt? Don’t post it. Is the inability to post a photo such a horrible inconvenience that it’s worth upsetting a friend or relative? Just ask. Maybe the answer will be yes.