Mumsnet had a really powerful guest post last week from Hannah Weller, singer and wife of Paul “The Modfather” Weller, who successfully sued the always deplorable Daily Mail after gross paparazzi photos were published of their children. She now spearheads Protect, an initative to protect children’s privacy. Their mission statement: “This campaign is calling on the Government to protect children’s privacy by making it an offence for the media to publish photographs of children without consent from parents or a legal guardian.” Her post about the whole sordid affair is HERE, and is worth a read.
I told you that story to tell you this one.
I tend to keep the kid out of this blog. It’s rare to see any photos of him on my Instagram or twitter feed – it’s usually the top of his head, or his hands, or just his toes. I don’t call him by his name; he’s almost always known simply as ‘the kid’. My reason for that is the same reasoning that everyone who was really active on the Internet in the early 90’s, but who you can’t find a trace of now, is this: We understand just how awful the WWW can be.
Before I continue, a caveat: I get that blogging is about sharing your experience in this world, and for many people, that involves the experiences with your family. This isn’t about shaming anyone who likes to post pics of their kids. This is about making you aware of the quiet but substantial risks online, risks that rise exponentially in line with the types of pics you post.
I want you to all think of an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg, as we all know from science class or that interminably long James Cameron film, is the smallest part of the structure. The really dangerous part sits below the surface. On the internet, every website you have ever visited, every video you have ever watched, every cat meme you’ve ever created, those all make up only 4% of the actual world wide web. The other 96% is made up of what is called the Deep Web. And what is in the Deep Web?
Sorry I don’t have attribution for this – it’s been shared so often, I couldn’t find the originator.
Well, it has many strata, from relatively innocuous illegal torrent sites to get the latest films, to drug markets, to human trafficking networks, to assassins for hire, allllllll the way down to a healthy trade in snuff child pornography. (No, that’s not a typo. Yes, it’s a thing. Yes, you will want to hug your child harder after you learn about it). The further you go down, the worse it gets. More than likely, you will never see or experience the Deep Web, but here’s the sick part….if your children have a major online presence, more than likely, they are there.
There is a huge trade in those innocent bathtub or naked-running-through the sprinkler shots that parents used to take and keep to themselves, but now share with the whole world, because I guess if you aren’t Pinteresting it, it didn’t happen. And those shots, and a whole host more, are finding their way into the Deep Web. Some, like the naked ones, get traded openly. Others get photoshopped to look sexually graphic. The FBI (the USA’s main arm of federal investigators) has the vein-opening job of tracking down the identities of the children in these authentic or digitally manipulated photos, and informing the family when these shots are about to be used in trials against paedophiles or child porn traffickers. And while the NSPCC has been trying to make parents aware of photography dangers when taking shots for sports teams or dance recitals, etc, there seems to be no guidelines for parents themselves, which is a real shame in my book.
I told you THAT story to tell you this one.
For the past few months there’s been a brouhaha in the States over facebook’s and Instagram’s TOS regarding nudity, especially concerning mothers. Hashtags like #stopcensoringmotherhood have sprung up in retaliation to what some see as Instagram and facebook unfairly punishing mothers for having mother’s bodies versus being a size 2, etc. Comparison photos of dick pics from Instagram are put up next to previously banned photos of a mother serenely breastfeeding to highlight how cruel FB and Instagram are being to mothers.
Here’s why I think they are full of it.
- The TOS for both Instagram and facebook are clear – no nipples exposed on women, no nudity on children, no genitalia for anyone. However, neither company has the resources to vet each photo prior to upload, so unless a user flags the image for review, you could potentially have an Instagram user who posts nothing but fully naked photos and as long as their followers don’t raise the alarm bells, nothing will happen. So if a mother’s photo was flagged, it means more than likely a follower or random concerned person flagged it.
- When photos do get flagged, it’s almost never because of the mother in the photo, it’s almost always because there is a semi or fully naked child in the frame. And you can go on all day about how childhood should be innocent and not sexualized and I will nod my head and remind you that we live in the real world, where kiddie murder porn is a thing, and I don’t need to see your 10 month old’s labia on my newsfeed to understand you are a mother. I get it. We alllll get it. You had a kid. Congrats.
- When a 20 year old ‘hottie’ posts a wet tee shirt photo, it’s…well, it’s stupid in this day and age, especially considering the tough job market and employers’ understanding of how to Google applicants, but that 20 year old is at the age of consent. She can choose how to disseminate her image. That 10 month old with her labia all over Instagram? She cannot give consent for another at least another decade and a half. And the person that is putting her genitalia on the WORLD WIDE WEB without her understanding or consent is the person who is supposed to be her protector.
Instagram and facebook aren’t stupid, they can see the potential lawsuits coming down the line from former toddlers who will sue the hell out of them for hosting photos of them without their explicit consent. That’s why they take minors’ photos down when there is even a hint of nudity – it’s not that they hate mothers, it’s that they know we are a litigious culture, and they don’t want the future hassle.
Think of it this way – if your neighbour convinced your 5 year old to let him take photos of her naked, and then put them on the Internet, would you be angry? Of course. So why in God’s name do you think its okay for you to do it?
I’ve been on the Internet solidly for 22 years and counting, almost since the beginning of the public face of the web. And while people think the net is tough today, it was the Wild West back then – you could wander into a whole mess of horrible, eye-bleach requiring stuff with just a few keystrokes. So while I applaud Hannah Weller for her push towards more substantial privacy settings for children in the media, I remind you all that like the iceberg, the majority of shots of kids aren’t coming from gross paparazzi with telephoto lenses – they are coming from our own cameras and phones. They’re being uploaded with glee to prove we’re ‘true mothers’. And they’re being shared on public networks without apparently the slightest thought of how these kids might feel when they reach puberty and realize their naked bodies have been put on the Internet specifically to earn their parents clicks of approval from strangers.
We want to do right by our kids, I get that. But I think in the newest wave of social media, where hits and clicks are tied to fame (well, ‘internet’ fame) and money (in the form of blog sponsorships and product reviews), we’ve forgotten how big and bad the Internet can be, and in ‘celebrating’ ourselves and motherhood, we’ve potentially exploited the very people we would do anything to protect.