The Wisconsin parents. Photo courtesy of Reddit / IMUGR / Facebook
As a teenager, I could not have imagined many fates more excruciating than having my mom and dad post embarrassing pictures of themselves where my friends could see them. Apparently this has occurred to some of today’s harassed parents, who have resorted to using Facebook as a form of punishment. In one now-famous incident, when a Wisconsin teen “got fresh,” her parents decided confiscating her cell phone wasn’t enough and decided to post a bunch of goofy photos of themselves on her Facebook page. Her brother, who sided with the parents on this one, released the story and one of the parental photos to the world. Articles instantly appeared on the Huffington Post and everywhere else on the planet. Public response ranged from “Way to go, parents!” to “Publicly shaming your child? Shame on you!”
“By giving people the power to share,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once remarked, “we’re making the world more transparent.” Yes, but just how much transparency do we really want? How would those Wisconsin parents feel if their daughter posted embarrassing photos of herself on Mom’s company website or Dad’s Rotary Club Facebook page?
To me, the whole transparency issue is kind of like nude beaches. When I was a college student – about the age Mark Zuckerberg was when he revolutionized social media – I once went to a nude beach, feeling terribly daring and wildly cool, and wondering why everyone didn’t want to join in the fun. Three decades later I found myself in Marbella, on the southern shore of Spain, where I was gobsmacked to discover a sea of 70-year-old tourists – men and women – sunbathing in nothing but skimpy thongs. I admired their courage, if not their leathery skin. But – and this is my point – I was very glad that I had the freedom to choose how much of myself I was going to reveal to the world.
Same goes for social media. I love the endless, crazy, eclectic, rambunctious, billion-voiced conversation that goes on every day. But I am often flabbergasted by the things people choose to post: lurid details of their divorce, rants about people none of the rest of us know, photos I wouldn’t even share with my sisters let alone the blogosphere, character assassinations in 140-character spurts aka trial by Twitter. In the early days of Facebook, I felt a certain cozy security that only my family and close friends could see what I posted, but with the ever-changing privacy rules, I’d be surprised if even Mark Zuckerberg always knows who’s allowed to see what and pass it on to whom. So I now adhere to one simple rule: never post anything on the Internet you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.
And that goes double when I’m talking about my husband. Rich is a tremendous good sport, but there are limits, and I would never want to embarrass him by doing anything to compromise his privacy or his dignity.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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