This Mom’s Guide to Ethical Internet Sharing -The Toast

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If there’s one thing I never thought I’d be, it’s a mommy-blogger. I’ve clicked my way onto more than a few mom-blogs during frantic, middle-of-the-night Google searches. While they were sometimes helpful, I always left with the weird, unpleasant feeling that I’d just been party to some kind of child exploitation.

I can’t help but notice that some of these blog kids are living in their own personal versions of The Truman Show. Their lives are serialized online. It seems that everything is shared: their milestones, their struggles, their photos (so. many. photos.), their most vulnerable moments—all offered up for blog readership or, more troubling, blog sponsorship.

Nonetheless, when I became a mother myself, I found I had things I wanted to say about the experience of motherhood. The tricky part was figuring out how to balance the desire to share that experience with my personal values regarding my son’s privacy. To that end, here are the general guidelines that I try to follow when sharing my life as a mother online:

  1. I don’t publish my son’s name on the Internet. I’m lucky to have been born just early enough that I got to build my own Internet presence. With the exception of an unfortunate Friendster profile that’s still floating around on the Internet somewhere (About me: I like hamsters!), I feel pretty much fine about what’s out there. It seems like common courtesy to offer my son the same luxury. He can build his own Google results. I’m not going to do that for him.
  2. I don’t use my child’s image to sell anything or offer up his image in exchange for free stuff. This one seems pretty cut and dry to me. There are all kinds of laws in place protecting child models (regarding permits and hours and education and how much of their pay must be set aside in trust for them). I actually find it appalling that these laws haven’t caught up to the blogosphere where I regularly see bloggers using pictures of their kids to sell clothes or soap or toys in sponsored posts and brand partnerships. Regardless of whether the kids in those photos are smiling, they are hard at work supporting their families. They should have the same protections as child performers in any other medium.
  3. I don’t share photos of my naked/partially naked kid. This is also an easy one. There are just too many people on the Internet doing creepy things. And pictures on the Internet are like grains of sand in your minivan: once you get them in there, you can’t get them out. I have many adorable snaps of my son running around in a diaper or playing in the bathtub, but I keep them locked away on my hard drive. Those are for me, his father, and his future prom date’s eyes only (Hey! A mom’s got to have some fun!).
  4. I don’t reveal anything that my child might consider private someday. I take this commandment pretty seriously and always err on the side of caution. I have no idea whether my son will grow up to be a relatively guarded person (like his mama) or a chronic over-sharer who loves gushing about his life online. Either would be fine with me, but the point is, I don’t know. There’s a chance he’d be fine with me sharing all kinds of details about his childhood, but there’s also a chance he won’t be and, for me, it’s just not worth the risk.
  5. I don’t share pictures that could be embarrassing for him later. Speaking for myself again here, but I would not have been happy if my fifth grade bullies has access to photos of me with spaghetti all over my head, or standing in my toddler potty, or that time I put on a pair of my mom’s nylons over my gym shorts. From an adult’s perspective, these kinds of photos are adorable and ubiquitous, but when you’re a kid, you think you’re the only person in the universe with your particular, humiliating brand of weird. I think it should be up to my son, not me, whether he finds these photos embarrassing.

Basically, I keep the focus on myself, and not my son. This might sound difficult, but it’s been surprisingly possible. I have a lot to say about my own experience of motherhood that doesn’t necessitate revealing sensitive information about my child. Sure, there are a lot of essays and blog posts and articles that I sometimes wish I could be writing, but I feel strongly that my child’s privacy and wellbeing simply have to come first.

I once had the pleasure of hearing Tony Earley speak and during his talk, he said that at some point he’d had to choose between being a good writer and a good son, and he decided to be a good writer. If I have to choose between being a good mommy-blogger and a good mommy, I prefer to be a good mommy. For me, that’s an easy choice.

Aubrey Hirsch is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Rumpus, Brain, Child Magazine and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch.

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