Privately Public

Over the summer, Husband did a 4 week placement with a Vicar close to retirement. As I was heavily pregnant and running after a toddler at the time, they kindly agreed to accommodate us all. As a result, I spent a great deal of time harassing the poor Vicar’s wife for tips on family life. One of the most poignant things she said to me was that she had always been very protective of her children’s privacy. Living in a Vicarage, she said, can be like living in a goldfish bowl; people often feel they have the right to know your business. She didn’t want that for her children and so she actively protected them against it; keeping quiet about both their achievements and their shortcomings. What struck me most about this, however, was that her children were all grown up; she was talking about privacy issues long before social media existed.

This obviously rang alarm bells for me, and they chimed along with the dull tones I’d been blocking my ears to ever since I had children. You see, it’s not cool to admit it, but I enjoy Facebook. We have moved around so often that I couldn’t practically keep up with everybody that I care about. So I love seeing their updates; I love seeing pictures of their growing children. And I know, without any intended arrogance, that for many of those people, the feeling is mutual. Of course, I also have friends whose Facebook pages give absolutely nothing away. You’d never imagine they’d acquired 3 children and a small petting zoo since they left University. And good on them! I really admire the self control… but it’s just not me. I am not a passive Facebooker and I never will be. I use it to share life and I enjoy it. However, as my stay-at-home life currently revolves around my children, this raises obvious concerns about their privacy and personhood.

I mulled all of this over more intensely (and perhaps hormonally!) around the time that our son was born. As we enjoyed announcing his arrival, it concerned me that, although we only shared our precious early days with ‘friends’,  I somehow had over 300 of them. Surely, I thought,  I can’t know that many people personally?! However, as I went down the list, I found it incredibly difficult to eliminate anyone. I guess when you have been part of several church families, workplaces and colleges, you do accumulate genuine connections. Nevertheless, just looking at that number is unnerving. After a few weeks, I figured our recent ‘big news’ should help to cut it down. Out of those 300 ‘friends’, only half had responded to the birth of our child. Surely, I thought again, this quick filter should give me roughly 150 people I’m no longer actually connecting with? However, the results of that investigation were also unnerving. Whilst some of the most personal messages came from people I knew least well, those who hadn’t registered any form of interest included family members and friends overseas (you know, the ones you tell yourself you use Facebook for!). As a result, I once more failed to ‘unfriend’ anyone. Not content with carrying on regardless, I closed my account for a little while to think more seriously about how and what I share, and with whom. This post is a result of that period; and its purpose is to share a few tips for people who, like me, enjoy Facebook and want to interact, but are concerned about exposure.

  1. Regularly check your privacy settings: Facebook changes the options and the language used to describe them often. As a teacher, I opted to only receive friend requests and messages from ‘friends of friends’. When I finished teaching I decided to relax these, but received so many random requests that I swiftly changed them back.
  2. Reduce your friends list: If you haven’t thought about privacy for a while, there’ll probably be a few friends on there you wouldn’t miss (and very probably wouldn’t miss you!) if you disappeared. I’m not trying to be harsh; this isn’t about judging the quality of the people you remove, it’s about limiting the scope of the information you share. Just be honest; if this person was in the area, would you meet them for coffee or introduce them to your kids?
  3. Make lists: This tip may not work on the app, but if you go on the website directly there are lots of options for organising your friends list. You can categorise friends into family, work, college etc, or create an ‘inner circle’ of close friends, choosing to only include or exclude those people when you post. I’ll admit, I’m not quite as hot on this one as I used to be, and tend to use the quicker, easier, but slightly harsher option below.
  4. Make acquaintances: There will be people you don’t necessarily want (or dare!) to delete completely, but likewise don’t want to share everything with. Adding those people to the acquaintance list is the easiest way to solve that problem. When you share big news, for example, change your audience to ‘friends’. When you share more personal things, share to ‘friends except acquaintances.’ I’ll be honest, I often use this as much for their benefit as mine. Some people just aren’t close enough to forgive the pointless nonsense I sometimes post; I’d rather irritate those who truly love me !
  5. Share with a time limit: This is the biggest change I have made since having children. If you want to provide an update or a funny photo; share it, allow friends time to see it, and then delete it- or at least change the privacy setting to ‘only me’. That way your child’s entire history isn’t locked on the internet for so long you lose track of what’s on there and who can see it. Delete any photos you’ve taken of other people’s kids and ask them to do the same for you.
  6. Stop tagging other people in photos of your kids: This makes it easier to keep track of the photos and remove them later. Once someone is tagged, the photo will appear on their page to be seen by their friends; many of whom may not have been vetted for a while. If  you’ve tagged people in whole albums – like a wedding – you can change the setting to ‘only me and people tagged’ so that they can still see it, but their friends can’t.
  7. Carefully select your profile picture and set it to ‘friends’: Your profile pictures and cover photos are automatically public, unless you go to the website and select otherwise. Unless you choose to only display each photo to ‘friends’, absolutely anyone who searches for you can see them and any others you still have in those albums. If you want to protect the identity of your children, I’d completely avoid using photographs of them- especially alone- on your public display. Think I’m being over cautious? Photos available to the public can and have been stolen to create fake social media accounts, dating profiles and worse. Perfectly innocent, fully clothed photographs can and have been photoshopped by porn sites, peodophiles and cyber bullies. See Here for more advice.
  8. Think carefully about what you share: at the moment your children are completely at your mercy. Before you share, ask yourself if this picture or status could be used to  embarrass or humiliate your children in the future. Just think, if they go to school with any of your Facebook friends’ kids, this is a risk.  As a teacher, I swore I’d never ask a child to do something I wouldn’t do myself, (screw the no make up policy, I feel Acne Girl’s pain!) Take the same approach to Facebook. Would you take a teary, snot-covered selfie to show how poorly you are? No? Then don’t do it to your kid!

In a similar vein, but not neccessarily a safety tip, I do think some things are just meant to be private. It’s a matter of opinion of course, but for me, Christmas morning is one of them. When I was little, we had this tradition where my sister and I would run downstairs excited; dad would film us, miss it, and get us to go back up and run down again, always disappointed that we didn’t look half as excited the second time! We carried it on into our teens because it was funny and we knew he treasured those films. That said, if there was ever a risk that anyone outside of our very immediate family was going to see it- never mind 100 people on the internet!- we would have been mortified, and certainly wouldn’t have played along. I’m sure as a parent I will do countless things to mortify my children; but I hope to do them as unintentionally and privately as possible!

So there you go. I hope I don’t sound all-knowing; I’ve definitely broken all of these rules in the past, but have just spent a week of night feeds trying to rectify them! If this is the first time you’ve thought about privacy, I would recommend taking some time to do the same. I hope this helps!

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