…We, too, are using our children on the Internet to burnish our personal brands, from the C.E.O. who wants to let everyone know she still takes the time to attend her child’s piano recital to the stay-at-home caregiver wanting recognition for his exhausting work.
The 5-year-old clearly cannot approve with full understanding the uploading of these images, just as the only way Blue Ivy can refuse to endorse her mother’s marketing campaign is by throwing a temper tantrum. We have strict child labor laws, and I am certain that any applicable ones were upheld during Blue Ivy’s cameo. (I also imagine that she had fun.)
Social media sites typically attempt to ban users under 13, and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule is designed to safeguard children when they use the Internet.
But there are no specific restrictions concerning what parents share about their own children, though the national police in France — a country we have historically thought of as more laissez-faire than us regarding just about everything — recently posted a message on Facebook warning parents that sharing photos of their children is unsafe.
While love for and from a child is absolutely something to be cherished and celebrated, it may also explain why children are such perfect props for online self-promotion. If someone were to post daily pictures of and stories about his spouse, he would soon find himself without any virtual friends.
Yet children get a pass, not only because they are, as ever, symbols of purity, but also because they are still unspoiled by digital technology, unable to use it themselves with much proficiency. As Rousseauian innocents of the Internet age, they aren’t susceptible to the vapidity, solipsism and toxicity the rest of us have been sullied by.
To integrate a child into a Twitter post or Instagram picture, then, is to acknowledge a deeply intimate connection we have to a world untouched by these corrupting media platforms, to signal to others that when we put down the phone or close the computer, there exists a human being whose life is wholly dependent on us, who wants to hear a bedtime story rather than another hot take on the latest scandal, who loves us not for how many followers we boast but for the tender, sacrificial care we give them.
And yet we use a cold piece of machinery to affirm that warm human sentiment.