Your Baby Will Google You

On: October 6, 2011
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About Autumn Hand
Autumn Hand’s career in media has encompassed web development, social media consulting, image and video editing, grant writing, academic editing peer mentoring and product branding. She holds a Master’s in New Media from the University of Amsterdam and a BFA from the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. In her work and studies, she has balanced New York energy with European sensibility. Autumn is a problem solver; with the ability to take abstract ideas and bring them to actualization, employing. skills in research and communication strengthened by diverse technical understanding.


Whether by design or by default, the current generation whose lives are playing out in social networks, in the blogosphere and throughout the Internet are leaving traces of their lives online. Controversy was anticipated as guardians and future employers gained access to the user content, but another demographic may stimulate more acute repercussions.

As this generation procreates, their offspring will get online too and, ultimately, have access to the unedited version of their parents’ online conduct.

Past generations have been able to manage histories and indiscretions as told to their children through editing of an analog photo album or censoring story sharing. The current generation, through applications such as Facebook’s Timeline or simply cached tweets and archived blog posts, have forfeited control over the details of youthful escapades and shenanigans. Unmitigated access to the juvenescence of their parents (and other authority figures), as recorded on the Internet, will effect the next generation of families and community.

The Web-Content Curious Kid

Will a more honest dialog develop when children can investigate their own parents’ drug use after being lectured about substance abuse? What sorts of boundaries are challenged if the sexy video of the Carpool Mom dancing in her teenage room is discovered? When the child itself comes into the narrative – How will, for example, updates from a frustrated Father or strained Mother concerning a difficult child rearing episode effect that child years after complaints were divulged?

For certain, the results of a virtually uncensored family past will transform the future relationships – the question is how, and should anything be done about it?

A Brief Background in Privacy, Secrecy, And Having ‘Nothing to Hide’…

The current generation of ‘digital natives,’ the generation which considers the Internet to be ubiquitous – even indispensable, have been ridiculed for their openness and unrestrained exposure online.

When Facebook opened the site to users outside the college networks in 2006, an onslaught of party pictures and uncensored commentary was revealed to future employers and concerned parents. There was no shortage of uneasiness surrounding the repercussions of such unveiling:

The New York Time’s columnist Michelle Slatalla revealed her enthusiasm to investigate her daughter’s online life;

So last week I joined Facebook, the social network for students that opened its doors last fall to anyone with an e-mail address. The decision not only doubled its active membership to 24 million (more than 50 percent of whom are not students), but it also made it possible for parents like me to peek at our children in their online lair.

(Slatalla, 2007)

Many employers found online social networks to be a practical assessment tool of their potential candidates;

College-aged students are beginning to see the mistake of providing private information on the Internet as more employers gain access to Facebook and use the information they find as a factor in hiring decisions. According to a July 2006 survey by the U.S. National Association of Colleges and Employers, “27% of employers have Googled their job candidates or checked their profiles on social networking sites.”

(Kennedy and Macko, 2007; citing George, 2006)

Further risks and repercussions of online life have been investigated, but falls short of grasping the effect of a legacy being left behind for the connected future generations;

Specific privacy concerns of online social networking include inadvertent disclosure of personal information, damaged reputation due to rumors and gossip, unwanted contact and harassment or stalking, surveillance-like structures due to backtracking functions, use of personal data by third-parties, and hacking and identity theft.

(Debatin et al, 2009; summarize boyd & Ellison, 2008)

A consideration of privacy settings, and self-censorship progressively has been adopted by this generation, however there is still a legacy of online activity cached or stored to be discovered by future net archaeologists (amateur or otherwise). Besides, there is a difficulty in predicting whether conduct appropriate for a user’s current audience (of family, employers and acquaintances) is also appropriate for a user’s future audience (offspring, future romantic relationships, changed employment situations).  Regardless, a combination of the tendency for disinhibition online (Suler, 2004) and uncontrolled privacy concerns contribute to a residual uncontainable content;

“Even the most lauded privacy feature of Facebook, the ability to restrict one’s profile to be viewed by ‘friends only’, failed for the first 3 years of its existence: Information posted on restricted profiles showed up in searches unless a user chose to opt-out his or her profile from searches.”

(Debatin et al , 2009 reference Jones & Soltren, 2005)

Finding Foresight

With the privacy and disclosure issues of the moment thoroughly investigated, now is the time to start researching the effects legacy and consequences online activity will have on future relationships. By having a particular focus on family dynamics, the ‘digital native’s’ current activity can be assessed in two ways.

First, the actual potential and extent of private and personal digital activity which could be unearthed by the next generation will be thoroughly explored. This can be investigated through study of current litigation and policy surrounding privacy. Also helpful would be projections of possible profile and privacy reveals as offered by computer program and engineer experts.

Second, a series of interviews and surveys will be conducted with psychiatric professionals and current web users alike. The survey will explore the psychological consequences of full disclosure and blurred boundaries with children, as well as the intended level of honesty and disclosure preferred by the current generation (and future parents).

Final Thought

The warning, “If you wouldn’t want your mother reading it, don’t post it” has long been circulated. Of course, the adage could interchange “mother” with any number of caution invoking characters.  An immediate response often is to rally for more self-censorship and stronger privacy guides. Perhaps, a study in the effects of online behavior and consequences of internet activity does not have to lead to closing off and fortifying of profiles and forums. After all, the Internet is what we make of it, and it may come to be understood (through research and practice) that the Internet can be used as a tool to open an honest dialogue and strengthen relationships.


boyd, d., N. B. Ellison, (2008). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, 210–230.

Debatin, Bernhard, Ann-Kathrin Horn, Brittany N. Hughes, Jennette P. Lovejoy, E.W. Scrippsm, (2009). Facebook and Online Privacy: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Unintended Consequences. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 15, 83-84.

Kennedy, Nicole and Matt Macko, (2007) Social networking privacy and its effects on employment opportunities. Convenient or invasive: the information age. Boulder, CO: Ethica Publishing, Chapter 12.

George,  Alison.  “Facebook  Follies  Can  Hurt  Your  Job  Prospects.”  8, Dec.  2006.  <>.

Slatalla, Michelle. “‘omg my mom joined facebook!!’” 7. June. 2007., 3. Oct. 2011. The New York Times Online <>

Thinesen, Erica. “Cicso Study Finds Young People Value Internet the Same as Food, Air, Water and Shelter.” 26 Sept. 2011. 3. Oct. 2011 <>.

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