When you choose to splash your family across the Internet, how do you know when you’re in danger? I write this blog to keep an online record of Max’s life, and to chronicle my journey as his mother. I write to gain community. I write to document what mothering feels like. And I write because I know that deep down in my core, I am a writer. I am a writer who is practicing a skill, and honestly, when I write it is an interview. I’m interviewing for writing jobs. And sharing my vast knowledge about how to clean vomit out of a car seat and other amazing mothering skills that I feel it is my duty to share with you. You’re welcome. Ask me anything about how to get a reflux baby to sleep….I’m here all week.
What is sacred? How do you know what the boundaries are? And more importantly, how do you make sure that the Internet Creepers don’t steal pictures of your innocent toddler and pretend that he is their fake baby? No, it hasn’t happened to me, but it has happened. Or maybe it has happened to me, and I just don’t know it yet. Blech.
A friend of mine posted a similar question on FaceBook the other day, and my gut response was to defend what I do here. “Once our kids are old enough to care what we post about them online, they’ll be asking us “Face-WHAT?” I wrote. I mean, I write this blog so Max can have a baby book. You have no idea how un-crafty I am, and all of my most special sentimental things that I’ve collected for him are sitting in a squished up baby book box in my nightstand. This blog is better than a baby book (I tell myself) because I couldn’t actually CREATE a baby book, even if Michael’s Craft Store opened up in my living room and gave me private crafting lessons. (Michael’s, if you’re listening though….I will gladly
play with review stickers, stamps, the cut-out thingies, some doilies, some fabric paint, those foam visors that you can put glitter on, a decoupage cardboard box, and anything else that you want to send my way. Oooh…and definitely those cool cupcake holders, and the chocolate-making mold thingies. I never said I didn’t like PRETENDING to be crafty, I just said I sucked at it.)
As I was saying…the Internet privacy stuff (sorry, distracted by beading projects from Michael’s). When I’m sitting on my bed typing these posts, I imagine them being read by my mom. And my best friend. And now that “the blog” has grown, I think about my sweet new Internet friends, who also write blogs about their own children. And my preschool mom friends. And all of the wonderful, safe, loving, trustworthy family-oriented people that read what I write because they “get it”. It’s all quite peachy and friendly and fabulous, this online community.
Until it isn’t.
Thinking about the consequences of “putting my shit out on Front Street” makes my stomach turn. I used to work for the police department. I know how easy it is for sicko strangers to gain access to everything that a family holds sacred. I’ve snickered with the Vice Unit when they’ve pulled down the most obscene photos from a scandalous website, or passed around the evidence after a raid. Online trash is a dime a dozen, and you’d be shocked and disgusted by what the sweet old man who lives next door is looking at after his wife finishes her online shopping. Some of my dearest friends work for law enforcement, and the stories that they tell about how children are violated on the Internet is enough to make you never hit “post” on a photo of your child again. There are Internet Creepy Crawlies. There are pedophiles who will snatch your baby’s bathtub photo and do god knows what with it. There are weirdos who will figure out where you live and try to friend you on FaceBook.
Ugh. I’m getting a stomach ache just talking about it.
I like to think that there are two concentric circles that make up your Internet boundaries. The first circle is the intersection of comfort level and family privacy. What is YOUR family comfortable with? How do you establish your boundaries about what is for public consumption and what isn’t? Some friends never ever ever post pictures of their children on their blogs or use their real names. Their “blog kids” have names like Tinkerbell and Stinker. Other friends don’t put any pictures on FaceBook, ever. Some bloggers name their city and post pictures of their children AND their children’s friends. My own comfort level is a work in progress. I spent too many years in a career that stressed heightened personal security to now freely splash my name and personal life all over the Internet where anyone can find me. Yet as I’m morphing into “Kim the writer”, I’ve been asked by editors if they can use my real name. So “Mama By The Bay” is now publicly written by Kim Simon, the real life person. Scary and exposed? Yes. But it’s necessary when your blog becomes your resume. As much as I write for my family, I also write to be heard. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about how to reach y’all with this blog. Let’s be honest, I like having an online community. I enjoy getting to know you. I want to write things that scatter through the wind like dandelion seeds and land in the backyards of people that I don’t even know. And I may have also said to my husband this week that there was something that I needed to “SEO the shit out of”. Hey, I always promised you that I’d be excruciatingly honest here, right?
Then there’s content. What content is OK to share? I learned the hard way that sharing some parts of my history, and revealing some of my inner monologue might be hurtful to my family. It might lead to being over-exposed, and even though it’s only words, information can be just as private as photographs. Things might seep into the minds of old and new friends, and create more questions than I have answers for. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what post I’m talking about….yep, I know, I kinda asked for that. Sorry, won’t happen again.
The second circle is HOW we share. How do we create safety mechanisms that protect our privacy and ensure our safety? Some big bloggers have started watermarking their pictures. When I worked in adoption, part of my job was deciphering adoption scams. It’s gross and sad, but there were women who pretended to be pregnant so that they could get money and emotional support from prospective adoptive couples. I’ve seen stolen ultrasound pictures, fake rental agreements, you name it. It’s one of the many “hidden secrets” of the adoption world, but it’s made me incredibly aware of how prevalent the online wackos can be. How do you ensure that your “intellectual property” doesn’t get stolen and passed off as someone else’s? How do you protect your photos so that someone else doesn’t assume your family’s identity and share your life as their own? I never identify the part of the Bay Area that I live in. I would never give the name of my son’s school, or where my husband works. But is that enough?
So I’m asking you. What are YOUR thoughts on how much exposure is too much? How do YOU protect your children online? Is it enough to believe that people are primarily good, and that an online community will do right by you? Are YOU an Internet wacko, and are you laughing at how naive I sound right now? Get your hands off that picture, bitch….that’s MY kid!