Violating our kids’ privacy

By Anne Collier

Kids aren’t the only people who need to think before they post, but the latter half of that sentence is an oversimplification, of course. New York Times columnist Lisa Belkin brings new meaning to the phrase “Protecting Your Child’s Privacy” in her Motherlode column this week. Where’s the line between “exploiting [a child’s] pain” – as one teenage subject of his parent’s published memoir put it – and blogging about your parental struggles (or joys) with that child in the public blogosphere? Belkin asks: “At what point do parents lose their right to their children’s tales? When do things stop being something that happened to ‘me’ and start being something that happened to ‘them,’ and therefore not ‘mine’ to tell?” There is no blanket answer to those questions, partly because the answers are highly individual and the surrounding conditions change (kids grow up; they can become mortified teenagers). Also, as Belkin points out, the questions didn’t first arise with blogs and social network sites – or even the Web or newsgroups or email. At the core of Belkin’s post is the story of a mom who felt she had to un-adopt a child after 18 months and wrote about it. Some detractors “scoured everything she has written in the past, finding a post that used the boy’s real name and country of origin, and circulating it around the Internet” and then, after the mom deleted as many references as she could think of, they “found old cached versions,” Belkin writes. The questions are age-old, but there are some differences now: e.g., the Web as both permanent, public, searchable archive and – sometimes – amplifier (see also “The Net effect” and “Online privacy: Photos out of control”).

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