May 29, 2013
Any mom will freak if a stranger is peeking through the baby’s room window, yet many have no qualms about a stranger perusing her virtual nursery on Facebook—starting with a shot of a pregnancy test stick that’s just been peed on.
A study published in journal Family Relations reports that as mothers transition into parenthood their Facebook usage increases, 58 percent said they visit their account at least once a day. A whopping 98 percent uploaded pictures of their child, and 93 percent said they expect others to comment/acknowledge a picture of their child. Dads are slightly more chill: 83 percent post baby pics and only 71 percent expected a response. Only?
Until recently, I equated overly proud parents with annoying foodies who believe their every bite deserves some sort of photojournalism. I’d simply hide their profile at the first sight of an E.P.T. to avoid ultrasound scans that eventually lead to full-on documentation of some baby’s every move. But now that I am expecting, I’ve developed Facebook angst that brought me to this conclusion: I refuse to expose my innocent bébé (or my placenta) to Facebook. Ever.
I am an anomaly in today’s digitally saturated world. It’s not that I hate social media altogether (I tweet all my articles @morozy and occasionally brag about my travels on Instagram), yet I feel that we’re blurring the line between personal matters and the insatiable need to feed our egos. It seems that motherhood has put blinders on good manners—why else am I seeing a newborn, umbilical cord and all? In the real world, you wouldn’t mail a birth announcement to someone you met once, at Coachella, but here you are baring your uterus to all. “Grandparents are usually the only relatives who want to see every single thing your little one does in utero, “ says Steven Petrow, civil behavior columnist for the New York Times and author of five etiquette books, including the upcoming Mind Your Digital Manners. “Even then, they may be thinking, ‘TMI.’”
Maybe your reason for constantly updating is to stay in touch with friends and family. It’s no secret that the network is looked upon as social capital. The problem lies in the fact that we don’t actually know our audience. In theory, Facebook feels like a safe, closed space, however, you’re dealing with a melting pot of people from different environments. Do you really believe that your co-workers, your mom and your first-grade teacher are privy to the same string of information? Even if you think you’re only sharing with true friends, you can’t guarantee that they won’t repost elsewhere. Click the ‘share’ button in the lower-right side of each image and Junior ends up on any friend’s timeline or in a private message to their second cousin. The truth is, Facebook is designed to leak information for the sake of keeping it interesting so you come back.
As part of my own social experiment, I browse (ahem, stalk) a profile of a very baby-picture-happy friend. Of her over 300 friends, a third have kids in their profile picture and I click away on these profiles like some sort of creeper. It’s easy—nine out of ten moms give me (and any other stalker) full access to their kiddies—so much for the song about how diligent people are about updating their settings.
According to a Pew Research Center survey of more than 2,200 adults, the majority (68 percent) said they were uncomfortable with anyone tracking their behavior. Yet, clearly, we routinely share the micro-minutia of our daily lives. “It’s a classic social science finding,” says Amanda Lenhart, senior researcher at the Pew Internet, a project of the Pew Research Center. “Americans give a lot of lip service about their privacy concerns, but when it comes to taking action, they are not willing to do it. Instead, they freely exchange personal information for goods, services, access to their Facebook profiles.” Cue the ‘free’ stroller contests.
Whether you want to admit it or not, you (and your baby) are a byproduct of the conglomerate. “People are like grain,” says Lenhart. “They are being sold, processed and consumed by Facebook.”
Overall, there is nothing wrong with sharing an occasional picture from a family vacation. “Posting baby photos gives mothers feedback that they are fulfilling their maternal roles,” says Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, author of the Family Relations study and associate professor of human sciences at Ohio State University. By updating, you’re sending a message: “I’m a good, happy mother,” and the world replies, “Damn right, you are!”
You have to admit, though, when daily (sometimes hourly!) posts are de rigueur it’s no longer about your child. We live in a culture that’s dependent on that little blue thumbs up icon. Hearing that your baby is adorable in person does not carry the same emotional high as a picture with 20 likes—proof that your child really is beautiful. Continually feeding the network with baby updates emphasizes that our friends’ opinions dictate reality. I’ve definitely had bouts of disappointment when a super cool picture from an epic trip gets overlooked. Therefore, by default, if the cutest snapshot of my baby doesn’t get at least 31 likes, I’m going to be pissed. Facebook is wicked like that. It makes us turn on ourselves.
“Facebook is changing the way we are seeing each other, our relationships and interactions,” Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical psychologist in Chicago. “Friends are no longer just friends. They are our fans, our audience.” These validations encourage us to keep sharing and when everyone is doing it, it’s the new normal. “An intimate moment like birth no longer holds any privacy for the family,” adds Flores, who is also writing a book on the psychological effects of Facebook.
Will I be the outcast in mommy groups? It already started. My mother-in-law asked if she could post "I'm going to be a grandma!" and I shook my head ‘no.’ I feel bad, even guilty, for robbing her of the opportunity to receive praise on behalf of her grandchild. I just have to keep reminding myself the age-old adage: mother knows best. My hope is that going incognito won’t be as difficult as I anticipate—the moms will probably be too busy with their own newsfeed to notice anyway.