Busy Bodies Go Viral: Where Does Privacy Start and End on the Internet?

5 years ago

I’ve been in the blogosphere for a little over six months now and I have written a few dozen posts that have appeared on various web sites. If I type my name into a search engine (yes, I’ve Googled myself) the top hits are a random selection of posts I have written over the past seven months, many of which chronicle moments from parenthood that I wouldn’t necessarily categorize as my best. I knew this would be one of the potential consequences when I decided to start blogging but ultimately I figured that the awards of mental exercise and free-therapy outweighed the risks of causing any harm to my reputation. After all, mommy blogs are rampant on the Internet and the odds that my posts would rise to the top of this mountain of data seemed slim.

Which is why I was stopped in my tracks by something I read this morning on Blogher.com. One of its regular contributors, Brandi Douglass, writes often about her journey as a mother of three whose husband is serving a tour in Afghanistan. Douglass’s writing style is funny, perceptive and well thought out and I get the impression through her stories that her parenting style could be described similarly. But today’s post was anything but funny as you can probably deduct from its title: “CPS Showed Up at My Door; And On-Going Lesson in Consequences.”

To read the post, click here (http://www.blogher.com/consequences?from=bhspinner) but I’ll give you the highlights; Douglass wrote a blog recently detailing an issue she had with her 12-year old son’s teacher. She explained that a math test her son had originally failed because he decided to trade his essential calculator for some non-essential Pokémon cards, was reissued so he could take it again with the necessary tools and subsequently raise his score. Douglass took issue with this, telling her son’s teacher that he should be made to deal with the consequence of his bad decision and not be given a second chance. She goes on to explain how she thinks this is a lesson better learned at 12 than as an adult. In her signature style Douglass uses words like “asshat” to describe her son’s decision making but I think it’s this sentence that started all the trouble;

“He knows his calculator is required for class and needed for the tests. If he's going to be dumb enough to trade it for Pokémon cards, then he needs to suffer the consequences of his stupidity.”

It was the use of these words—asshat, stupidity and dumb—that apparently prompted someone who reads Douglass’s blog to call Child Protective Services for “mental abuse” of her son. Douglass explains better than I can the heartbreaking consequences the visit from a CPS counselor had on her children but whether you agree or disagree with her parenting style, the question inevitably becomes, are her parenting choices subject to a virtual jury because she chooses to make them so public? 

As someone who has posted not-always-flattering details of my decisions in parenting online,I have to admit this story scared me. I also can’t help but wonder what authority the person who called CPS thought he or she was exercising? Sure, we all assume that if we thought another child was in danger in their own home, we would do something about it, maybe even call CPS if it was serious enough. But if we merely disagree with someone’s parenting style, does that give us the right to interfere? And because Douglass voluntarily shared this information in a public forum, is she more susceptible to these judgments?

I would really like to open up this discussion to bloggers and readers alike. What are your thoughts on this? And what if the situation were more serious? Would you feel compelled to act? Please comment. I really would love to hear your opinion.


Ellen Bailey writes for mamasagainstdrama.com, where this post originally appeared. 

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