Today, a person identifying themselves as Concerned Blog Reader posted the following comment on my last installment of Dad in Plaid:
I think you should respect your child’s right to privacy and not go spreading his image and story all over the internet. Rory’s hardly an age where he can give his consent to such things, and should be allowed to grow up without being in the spotlight, so to speak, since day one.
Setting aside the judgmental and presumptuous tone of this comment, I think Concerned Blog Reader makes a fair point. Rory truly lacks the ability to consent to the publicization of his earliest days. He may very well grow up to resent the fact that I’ve shared his baby pictures and information about his birth and infancy. This is something I considered before launching this project, and it’s something I take into account when identifying topics and writing posts. Most important, I think, is the subject of safety. I am a public figure within a small cultural bubble and the executive director of a nonprofit organization with global reach. Lauren is a public figure within an even larger cultural bubble. I have thousands of followers on social media; Lauren has nearly 60,000 subscribers on YouTube (n.b., Lauren is sharing much less about Rory through her own channels, specifically because her reach is that much higher than mine and she deals with many more trolls and invaders of privacy as a result). We’ve both encountered stalkerish behavior within our respective fan bases. Certain offenders have been blocked from viewing our social media accounts, and we’ve even had to alert event organizers about certain attendees in order to ensure that we could avoid/escape them if needed.
This presents a dilemma for us now that we’re parents. In the Harry Potter fandom and in the broader nerd and DIY music and art community, we’ve found a welcoming home where we’ve been able to thrive as creators and community leaders. For every individual who’s crossed a boundary and made us feel uncomfortable or unsafe, there are literally thousands of people who’ve treated us like real people and extended their generosity and support to us in one way or another. Back when we were touring full time, we frequently played house party shows that lacked any kind of boundaries between performers and fans. We ate dinner with our hosts and slept on their couches. Over the years, we developed genuine friendships with wizard rock fans all over the United States and Canada, to the extent that we looked forward to seeing specific people in almost every city we played.
Because of this overwhelmingly positive experience, I have always felt very little need to set up even the most reasonable boundaries for myself on the internet. While many of my colleagues created specialized lists on facebook in order to protect their more personal content, I remained stubborn and gave equal access to everyone, working under the assumption that most people would handle themselves responsibly. If someone ever crossed a boundary, I simply blocked them and left it at that.
Rory has changed that for me. I finally caved and created a list for friends and family who have access to everything — all the pictures and personal information that I wouldn’t feel comfortable posting in public spaces. I agonized over this list for weeks because it felt so weird to draw the line between “family and friends” and the broader community that has treated me like family since 2005. The end result is a list that includes around 300 people and feels a bit silly at times. This was after several rounds of narrowing it down — I believe my first pass had around 600 people!
Anyway, Lauren and I obviously care about Rory’s safety, and we understand that his very existence ups the stakes for our family. The stalkerish behavior we’ve encountered usually comes from people who feel they’re closer to us than they truly are. The last thing we want is for anyone to think they’ve earned a privileged level of access to Rory based on an inaccurate sense of their relationship with me and Lauren.
It may seem that by creating this dad blog, I’m inviting this type of behavior. Here are a few reasons why I’m not terribly worried:
- This blog is getting around 600 to 700 views per post. It’s a respectable amount of traffic, but the vast majority of it is coming from links I’m posting on my personal facebook, and thus most readers of this blog are people who I recognize by face and name.
- Contrary to what Concerned Blog Reader implies, I’m not indiscriminately spreading Rory’s image and story all over the internet. I am sharing my own story as a new father. The past two posts have been about as in depth as this blog will ever get, in terms of sharing specifics about Rory himself. The primary focus of this blog will be my personal growth and development as a parent and how I’ll balance that responsibility with everything else in my life. This is a story that I have every right to tell.
- Parenting blogs are totally a thing! This blog is just one in a sea of dad and mom blogs, all of which inevitably share information about children who are too young to consent to an internet presence. Yes, parenting blogs present an ethical question, but where you fall on the issue is a matter of personal opinion, and in my opinion it’s not unethical to maintain a parenting blog and share information about your child, so long as you’re actively taking into account your family’s privacy and safety.
- I’m not scared of the internet. I think it’s worth noting that we currently live in a time when over 1.2 billion people share their identity and personal information on facebook. And that’s just facebook! We no longer live in a time when hiding behind a screen name is the norm. It’s hard to say where the internet will be by the time Rory’s old enough to care, but the trajectory seems headed toward more open sharing of personal information, and that’s not an inherently bad or dangerous thing. Shielding Rory from the reality of the internet might do him more harm than good in the long run.
- Given how normal it’s become to share personal information on the internet, I don’t see how posting Rory’s picture on this blog is any more an invasion of Rory’s privacy than bringing him into other public settings, like a crowded store or a restaurant.
- Consent is an interesting choice of word in this context. As Lauren wisely points out, parents or legal guardians are usually in charge of providing consent on behalf of their children. In the case of this dad blog, I’ve acquired the consent of both Rory’s parents to post our family’s personal content, including pictures of Rory.
- I still have plenty of time to delete this blog before it could become an issue for Rory.
So, all of this considered, I respectfully disagree with Concerned Blog Reader. I don’t believe this blog is invading Rory’s privacy and I don’t believe it’s putting him in any kind of substantial spotlight. However, I am paying close attention to how people interact with the information I’m sharing. I’ve already blocked one person on Instagram, and I’ll continue to create boundaries as needed in order to protect Rory’s privacy and safety.
I’m very interested in hearing what people think about this issue and I’m happy to discuss further in the comments.