Timelines on Facebook are full of photos of pink playpens, soft-focus images of burping blankets and snaps of tiny purple wrinkles. The babies are coming! A UK study carried out last year found that the first photos of 77% of all newborns are posted online as early as an hour after their birth. Sometimes, a baby has online presence even earlier, in the form of ultrasound pictures. Of course, parental pride plays a big part, with albums of baby photos being used to let family and friends know how the baby is doing. However, whilst some people find the flurries of pictures and “likes” from friends and relatives annoying, the phenomenon actually raises more serious questions: What age is “too young” for social media? And what impact can an unwanted online presence have on young people? In the US, “digital birth” is currently a much-debated topic.
Fan Pages for Newborns
“I felt like I was hijacking the future of his emails.”
It seems that it is not uncommon for new Mums and Dads to overstep the mark — not being satisfied with simply posting photos, some parents are going as far as setting up fan pages, Twitter accounts or About.meprofiles for their children. And of course, every child needs his or her own email account: “It was a little strange setting up his email account, especially as he was only three-months old”, one mother told the New York Times. “I felt like I was hijacking the future of his emails. You know, he gets an account when he is twelve years old, but instead of creating it himself, his Mum did it for him!”
Even four years ago, 7% percent of all German mothers admitted to setting up a personal email address for their baby and as many as five percent created a social media profile for their babies immediately after birth. By doing this, parents are violating the general terms and conditions of social networking sites, as almost all require their members to be at least 13-years old. However, new networks created especially for babies are springing up nearly every day.
A Reflection of Mum and Dad.
Shaping Your Child’s Online Identity
If you don’t have children, it’s hard to fully appreciate this social phenomenon. The opinion from professionals, whether you talk to the German Child Protection Agency, the Media Authority of North Rhine-Westphalia or a media attorney, is unanimous: Back off! There is no place for children in social networking, not even in the form of photos and definitely not having their own profiles. The extent to which a child’s online identity is shaped is ultimately down to his or her parents. However, there are babies growing up now who will look back on an online identity that is not really their own, but a reflection of their parents.
These days, it is quite common for parents not to have their children baptized, allowing them to choose their own religion when they are old enough to do so. Perhaps we should start approaching other things in the same way.Cover-Foto/Slider: Flickr – Eric Fleming (CC BY 2.0) & Juhan Sonin (CC BY 2.0)