(This is the Tantrum, in which Dadwagon’s writers debate one question over the course of a week. For previous Tantrums, click here.)
Don’t freak out! The disgusting and disturbing photo you see to the right is not your child’s face Photoshopped onto Newt Gingrich’s body. It’s some other parent’s kid. So relax. Because this frightening scenario didn’t happen to you.
But it could! And it could be worse, right? Certainly: It could be Harry Reid’s face on your daughter’s body.
What it’s not likely to be, however, is truly pornographic. Nor is a stalker likely to find the pictures you took of your kids, triangulate their whereabouts based on Facebook and Foursquare postings, and then move in for the kill. In fact, putting your kids’ photos on the Internet is not dangerous—just as the New York Times reported last fall:
“Research shows that there is virtually no risk of pedophiles coming to get kids because they found them online,” said Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the Family Online Safety Institute. While the debate makes this crime seem common, he said, all the talk is really just “techno-panic.”
And yet, it’s still a terrifying prospect, isn’t it? Just knowing that it’s techno-panic doesn’t erase the fear that something awful might possibly one day happen. We may be rational people, but when kids are involved, reason goes out the window.
All I can do is speak from personal experience, having put images and video of my daughter, Sasha, in one of the most visible places in the world: the New York Times. You can see her at restaurants in Venice, getting a bath in a hotel room, and playing on the swings in San Francisco. Her actual name is there, and it’s not too hard to find out where we live. Has anything unpleasant happened as a result of this? Nope. Sasha’s never been recognized on the street, or anywhere else.
I realize this may sound like a call to the crazies to come get us, but honestly, the crazies have better, more efficient, and more insidious ways of getting to our kids, like finding them in chat rooms (although I’m skeptical of the stats on that) or, I don’t know, becoming Catholic priests. Child pornographers tend to use actual children in their crimes, not random, poorly PhotoShopped images. (If the latter were the case, it would almost be a victimless crime—although seriously creepy and probably still illegal.) And although we freak out over stranger danger, 87 percent of the almost 900,000 American children abused (in one way or another) in 2004 suffered at the hand of one or both parents, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, and three-quarters of sexually assaulted teens were victims of people they knew well.
So, should you post your kids’ pictures on Facebook, Flickr and wherever else? If all you’re worried about is safety, then go for it. It won’t endanger your child. (There may, of course, be a moral or cultural argument against putting kids’ pictures online, but I’ll leave it to another ‘wagoneer to go in that direction.)
Of course, if you’re terrified of running into a picture like this one to the right, then by all means keep the photos on the fridge, where they belong. Just remember to keep Uncle Al, Sally the teenage babysitter, the Fresh Direct delivery guys, and probably every member of your immediate family—including yourself—out of the kitchen. Can’t be too careful, you know.