How Donald Trump convinced me not to post photos of our newborn online:
Who doesn’t love photos of babies on social media? I love seeing those photos on my feed and learning about new milestones of friends who I don’t connect with often. I always assumed that I would do the same thing if I was as lucky one day — that is, until a few words by Donald Trump started to make me question the whole idea of sharing photos of my child on the internet.
Here’s what happened: Last year, at a rally — Donald Trump called out the organization where my husband works and where he is a visible leader. My husband is also Jewish, which Donald Trump supporters clearly found out about and as a result started bombarding his twitter feed with posts of ovens, monkeys and generally every anti-semitic trope you can imagine. After about twelve hours they found an article about our marriage and found out that I was Muslim.
It was a conspiracy theorist’s dream, and for the next few days their hate turned on both of us — anti-semitic tropes were combined with islamophobic ones. Then the commentary around our marriage, or more specifically that my husband was clearly a cuckold, (who even says that outside of shakespeare these days?) began.
To save themselves some time in the future the trolls also added the fact that my husband and I were married to his Wikipedia page.
It is one sentence.
The only details about me that were relevant were where I had been born and the date when we were married. They described me the same way you would a piece of furniture. “And then in June, so and so got a dining room set from Iran.’ As I read that sentence it felt like there was a whole group of people trying to wipe away my identity, life and achievements, and to frame me as not just an extension of my husband, but as his potential Achilles heel.
The whole experience was demoralizing, scary and, what was really strange, largely unseen by most of our support network. We didn’t really want to talk about it because we didn’t want to give the trolls more oxygen. For me the biggest impact of this episode was that way that it linked our professional work with our personal lives. I had never before internalized that what we did at work could potentially trigger public commentary on our marriage.
Since then, and particularly now that I’m pregnant, the idea of sharing photos of our baby on social media makes my stomach turn. I wonder what the trolls that attacked our marriage would have done to photos of our kids. The risk just doesn’t seem worth it.
The more I thought about it, the risk isn’t just limited to people with high profile political jobs. Once a photo is on the internet there is no way to control it or build guidelines around how people use those images. There are lots of stories about people posting perfectly innocuous photos on Facebook or other social media only to have them turn into cruel or downright hateful memes. For example, I recently read the story of Ciara Logan who posted a photo of her young son in a suit with two, two year old girls. The photo then became a meme where people would (1):
“ insinuate my son is a pimp, or is selling cars, because he has on a suit and has two little girls with him — or to hashtag, ‘keep him away from those girls,’ as if to say he’s a predator”
Once a photo or story is on the internet and others are using it — it’s a snowball. You can’t take it down or do anything but deal with a potential trail of destruction.
As I dug more into other people’s experiences with sharing photos of their children, I came across an article by Mia Freeman sharing a story about a conversation with her kids (2):
“Mum, did you know if you Google “Mia Freedman’s kids”, there’s pictures of us?”
He was incredulous. Not in a good way. It turned out he and his sister had been Googling while at their grandparents’ house.
“Yeah, I know,” I replied neutrally. “That’s a bit weird isn’t it?”
He nodded solemnly.
“How does it make you feel?”
“Well, Mum, there’s a picture of me in a nappy so it doesn’t make me feel very good….”
He was upset.
It turns out the image he saw wasn’t actually him. There are no images of him in a nappy but there are a few photos out there. Maybe four or five.”
It made me realize that protecting my future child from trolls wasn’t the only thing to consider, there was a much bigger question about consent at play that I hadn’t thought about. It’s one thing if your parents can pull out old albums at the bottom of closets to share embarrassing photos with friends or partners. It’s another — if a future boss, journalist or troll could find those photos by typing your name into Google.
Once a photo is on social media there’s always a risk that it’ll become public. Be that from terms of service of a site changing (who knows what Facebook’s privacy settings are going to be like in ten years?) to a platform like Snapchat being hacked and someone exposing ‘private’ photos, to even having a friend who has no ill intent re share a photo publicly because they thought it was sweet.
I don’t know how my future child will feel about having their photos online. It would be perfectly reasonable for them to be upset by it , or totally not bothered. The thing is, I don’t know how they’re going to feel and, given that, I don’t feel right making that decision on their behalf.
Partly the reason why I don’t feel comfortable making that decision for my child is because I know that one day they’re probably going to be in the same position. the internet is a key part of our lives and, at least for me, modeling the behavior of respecting my child’s privacy until we’ve had a chance to work out guidelines together that we’re comfortable with seems like a good way to model respect online, so that when they have private information or photos of a partner, family member or colleague they treat it with respect.
That said — when it comes to sharing photos of kids online — there aren’t any ‘one size fits all’ solutions. Different parents and families are going to tackle the issue differently. For us, we’re going to keep photos of social media. That doesn’t eliminate the risk entirely but it does reduce it. That solution might not be the right one for other families and that’s totally fine.
I wanted to share our thinking to help start more conversations around parenting and the internet — because, at least for me, it feels like issues from online harassment to bullying part of the solution could potentially start at home with the conversations we have with our kids.