Law in the Internet Society
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Parenting In Social Media and The Gift of Choice

-- By JoannaP - 10 Oct 2019


I can’t say precisely which part of the Internet generation I belong to. What I do know is that the chatroom in my freshman year in high school was mIRC. There was no Facebook in my country during my first year in law school. I got my first smart phone in 2010. Perhaps I can say I belong to that portion where crafting digital identities wasn’t what drove us for the majority of our lives. So far. This is the forgotten privilege. To be able to even say that this wasn’t what it used to be. To remember with clarity a past where freedom was the norm. This can never be replicated in any generation but should be rightfully envied.

Rise of the Digital Native Parents and Their Village

Fast forward to a decade after creating my first social media account, I am now a relatively new mom. Yes, I have photos of her on my social media. Yes, her first digital footprint is an ultrasound photo. And yes, I joined a parenting group in Facebook. It’s surprising how the landscape changed once those first social media inhabitants became the first generation parents giving birth inside this network. It was like whiplash of baby photos, baby stories, and parenting advice, solicited or not. What did we do at the advent of this phenomena? We embraced it. We congratulated the parents, waited for gender-reveals, welcomed the tiny humans, celebrated birthdays, and also mourned a few of the little angels. We created a community. One that at first we loved to be in because we felt we needed help from others and to help others. We needed a place where we feel welcome to enjoy (or not) the journey. After all, they say raising a child takes a village. It was a new avenue to build our social capital. But it didn’t end there, as what always happens in the social media world.

Competition of the Best

We also created a consciousness to create a parenting legacy. Because if we weren’t successful in our first quest to be relevant, we now turn our efforts in creating legacies as new parents. The community we love, where we wanted to feel safe as we fumble in our new roles, now became one that we felt we needed to shine and be experts in. It is now one of the environments that give us anxiety to perform our best.

"Sharenting" and The Anxiety of Forgetting

Parental sharing or “Sharenting,” means “the practice of a parent who regularly uses the social media to communicate a lot of detailed information about their child.” Why do parents do it? There are a lot of reasons aside from the organic want to just share. One answer is the highlight of my current internal debate. It is also my answer to the question “Why is there a need to divide attention?” I share photos of my child in social media because it creates a detailed photo album I can access anywhere and anytime. It’s hard to detach because I need to preserve memories and the quickest medium is my phone. I find that the anxiety of forgetting is the hardest to navigate. I tried to rationalize the reason why I posted more photos in the past three months than in the first six months of this year combined. The justification? I’m in New York for my LLM year and this is the first and only time I will ever get to experience living outside the Philippines with my child. I want to never forget the memories.

Here begins the conundrum. One-third of those posts are of my child in places she has yet to understand outside the basic knowledge that the building is of a blue woman, some have big screens, and one has an animal she knows is a bear. If I am just commemorating memories, it begs the question: whose memories? Do they belong to my child or mine? Are they both ours?

The Power of Choice: A Parent's Gift

Stacy Steinberg, in her article “Sharenting: Children's Privacy in the Age of Social Media,” stated that this is exactly the conflict at the heart of parenting in social media. The stories of children, especially young ones, are intrinsically connected to their parents’ that it naturally means parents end up creating their children’s digital footprint without them having consented from the beginning. There is now a conflict between balancing parents’ interest in sharing as part of free speech and protecting children’s privacy rights. But stating the conflict this way is making it too legalese that others might just gloss over the problem and say “leave it to the law.” I believe there is no conflict. Conflict presupposes the two rights are equal and they shouldn’t be. Even if one argues otherwise, we all learned in law school that freedom of speech is not absolute, it has limits. If we can’t do away with Sharenting, then setting the limit is imperative.

One solution is respecting boundaries as the new norm. As one article suggests, ask the question: “Have I crossed the boundary?” We are always free to create our own digital identities, but when we do so as parents with children as our stars, we are also cementing their own digital footprints from even before coming out of the womb. Those will last forever until children start having friends, finding dates, looking for colleges and jobs. The young ones are not even aware nor can object. It is beyond unfair that they don’t get to choose the foundation of their digital presence and the level of surveillance we unknowingly and unwittingly permit on their behalf. We had the privilege of choice, even though the wisdom of that choice might not be clear now that we know what we now know. We, as the first generation of parents with kids born in the age of social media, have the unique privilege of having the knowledge of the past. The best gift we could give is the power of choice. An informed one this time.

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r1 - 11 Oct 2019 - 02:16:50 - JoannaP
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