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Parental Advisory: Is baby’s first Facebook page even ethical?

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Image: freemixer/Getty Images

Question #2, from a non-parent:

I know we are all sick of the FirstBabyName-MiddleBabyName hashtag, but I’m also kinda concerned about babies who are given their own social media pages. I know one person who has done this: friend-requested me (via the baby’s account, and no, I did not add them) and tags the baby in her posts like a consenting adult. It’s parents’ prerogative to raise their children how they see fit (and the person in question is a loving and attentive parent, of course), but I almost feel like this is wrong on an ethical level. If I had to ask a simple question, it would be, “Is it cool to simply ignore friend requests from people under the age of 2,” but depending on the format of your advice column, I would be interested in your thoughts on the topic in general in terms of starting the internet identity footprint of a person that can’t consent to it.



Yes, it’s cool to ignore a “request” from an infant or toddler. You can tell your friend directly but lightheartedly that you don’t accept friend requests from babies, but if you think that will hurt your friend’s feelings (and it could), I would just leave it alone. Your opinion won’t influence the parents’ decision to have a Facebook page for their baby, so unless he or she asks why you haven’t accepted the invitation (which would possibly be an even bigger faux pas than telling your friend that you won’t be accepting the request), you can keep your thoughts on the subject to yourself and remain blissfully ignorant of that page altogether.

More: 9 things we really need to stop congratulating dads for doing

Regarding the ethics issue, everyone has a different opinion on this subject, since it’s only a decade or so old, and the ethics of building an internet identity for a baby can be argued many ways. From some parents’ standpoint, the baby has no say in the matter, much like children don’t get a say in a lot of decisions that are made on their behalf, and that stance is enough justification for parents to do whatever they want. I think it’s typically assumed that parents will be ethically responsible and not post pictures of their kids in questionable contexts, but we know that isn’t always the case. A good example of this is the story that went around this week about a woman who is suing her parents for posting photos of her on Facebook without her consent. She cites “nappy changes” and “potty training pictures” as part of her argument, and the universal response seems to be that people aren’t surprised by her lawsuit. So, are there ethical issues to treating a baby like a consenting adult (or even a consenting minor) when posting on Facebook? Definitely. Is this issue made worse by creating a child’s digital footprint and starting social media pages on their behalf? That’s still up for debate. But it’s possible, depending on how far a parent takes the page and for how long.

If the page is used to share only a small handful of cute images or updates per year, it’s less likely to impact the child later in life. If parents post hundreds of updates year over year, as the 18-year-old in Austria is alleging in her lawsuit, things can take a turn once that baby grows up and has a will of his or her own. This is why parents should always try to be respectful of their kids’ privacy, and treating Facebook like a digital scrapbook probably isn’t the smartest or kindest move. But there are some parents who create a Facebook page for their baby with the pure intention of keeping the content even more secure, so I can’t say Facebook pages for babies are the biggest hitch in this modern dilemma. In some ways, they’re a partial solution until that baby is old enough to say, “Stop posting about me on my own page.” Until then, you’re welcome to opt out of being friends with infants entirely, and no parent should blame or question you for doing so.

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