Why I’ll let my daughter shape her own digital identity

June 7, 2012

To my daughter,

It’s 2023, and here you are, 13 years old and finally ready for your own Facebook page (assuming that Facebook still exists and hasn’t changed its policies)! I’m sorry if my decision not to digitally document your life up to this point somehow makes it tougher for you to be successful.

With the exception of a few Instagram shots now and then and some private YouTube videos so close friends and family could watch you grow (your mother has been a little more free with photos of you on Facebook), I have been pretty adamant about keeping your life in the physical realm. I figured you’d thank me for it because you would be able to create your own digital identity and decide yourself how much you wanted to share with the world.

You see, as I write this, it’s 2012, and social media is still a relatively new idea. Most people have no clue how sharing all this personal information on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other sites will affect the way we think about privacy and reputation. But I think it’s a safe bet that by the time you read this, society will have figured out how to balance their desire to share information online with their desire to keep some semblance of a private life.

So I’ve been playing it safe. But some people can be really funny when it comes to Facebook. Hundreds of millions of people use the site and rave about it, and yet some of those same people (including, as I write this, the people who run Facebook) don’t think it is safe for kids under 13. And some even think we should have laws that tell you how you can and can’t use Facebook and other social media because sharing too many details about yourself can make you really unhappy later. (I personally don’t think that’s a good idea, but I’ll save that lesson that for another day.)

But wait, the whole thing gets even more complicated. Some of the people who think Facebook is so dangerous that we need new laws are also sharing every waking minute of their kids’ lives on the site. They are creating creating digital trust funds for their kids. They’re posting photos of young Isabella or tweeting about young Jacob or blogging about Ethan forgetting his lines at the school play — without, of course, ever asking their kids whether they want to share all those personal details with rest of the planet.

In 2012, some people estimated that more than 80 percent of children under 2 years old already had a digital profile because of their parents’ online activity!

I have no idea who is right or wrong in any of this. I could be way off base with my belief that parents shouldn’t share too much information about their kids online. But I just assume that when you’re reading this in 2023, you might not want all these details about you scattered around the web.

So I figure why risk scarring your reputation before you even get out of preschool. No need to have your first day at school forever linked to some picture of me dressed up like Amy Winehouse for Halloween 2009. I’ll let you decide what you want to share. We have all your photos, you can use them if you like.

Oh, and one other thing: Not too long ago, I lobbied to let people who unwillingly have had details about them exposed on sites like Facebook to sue their exposers in court. So it wouldn’t be right for to make that argument and at the same time force you into this brave, new and very public (despite what the privacy settings say) world before you’re even old enough to write a single word (much less compose a pithy tweet).

I hope I made the right decision, and I hope I can stick to my convictions as new technologies pop up over the next 10 years that make it even easier to share personal information about your life.

Love,

Dad

P.S.

If Facebook no longer exists or has fundamentally changed by the time you read this, please Google it to learn about its meteoric rise between 2008 and 2012. If Google no longer exists, well, ask me about it someday. There’s sure to be a quite a story there.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks.

(c) 2012, GigaOM.com.

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