My dear daughters,
I write this note to you because I work in a news website, and I happen to once in a while cross paths with people who do not realise that social media and the internet have changed the way the world functions, and the way media finds stories to write about.
The very people who seek your time and attention when you work in a ‘print’ publication such as a newspaper or magazine are at their self-aggrandizing, vindictive best when they realise they’ve been featured on a website without ‘their consent’.
I’m writing this to you to warn you that the world has changed, and where there is internet, there is consent.
If you have a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account, your photos and posts are the property of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram respectively. They are not yours. You have signed away your photos the day you created an ID on these social-media platforms.
News websites – and especially digital natives such as mine, which do not have a print origin and an army of reporters in every city – scour these very platforms for stories, interesting people doing interesting things who deserve to be famous and have their stories told. If you have a large following on any social-media platform, you are more likely to be noticed.
We then write about these people, and other websites pick up the same story as in a domino effect. It even reaches the print edition of newspapers and TV channels if it creates a flutter online and comes to the notice of enough well-connected people. And then it becomes even bigger.
That’s how stories are told these days, that’s how fame and fortune arrive. One thing leads to another in a highly networked, wired universe much like the neurons in a human brain, with one spark setting off a chain reaction of a million more until finally a thought is born.
Some people, however, still live in the old world where they think ‘permission’ would be taken to post a photo or a story, unmindful of the fact that as long as it was taken from an account with its privacy settings on ‘public’ mode, and credit is being given to the social-media platform and the creator of the piece, no law is being broken.
In fact, according to the way the internet works, you can slightly alter or modify an image you find online, add a little, delete a little, and it becomes your property. For example: the original photographer cannot claim any right to a photo of her photo if there are changes made to it, such as a filter, a texture or the addition of text.
Which is why it is so easy to find cute baby photos with memes these days; everything on the internet is free and available for use by anyone. The parents of the kids would never even know. Someone may even be making money by selling those photos with a funny meme on it or on a T-shirt.
The minute you load a photo on the internet, it’s out there, free for anyone to see, use and abuse. You can cry hoarse about your privacy settings or your consent, but that’s how it is. If you’re lucky it was picked up by a respectable news website, you will at least be credited for the photo and maybe tagged in a post out of courtesy. In most cases, though, you just won’t know what’s being done with it.
Which is why I am writing this to you: to tell you to be careful of everything you post online. I know that the tangible human need to socialise overrules any abstract threat of future plagiarism or cyber crime. So while I won’t ask you to delete your online presence (you can’t actually, the internet records everything for posterity), do at least remember these rules:
- Do not post anything you will regret.
- Do not post intimate photos with loved ones.
- Do not post photos in stages of undress.
- Do not post your own children’s pictures unless you are sure they won’t mind it when they grow up.
- Keep all privacy settings to as restricted as possible until you are 18.
- Use pseudonyms for your kids and people whose privacy you need to protect.
- Use a pseudonym for yourself if you don’t want your name and photos to show up in the same Google search.
- Avoid linking accounts such as Instagram and Facebook – both social-media platforms then identify you as the same person and inadvertently reveal your identity to your other connections in ‘friend suggestions’.
- Do not send intimate photos to ANYONE even in a private chat.
- In fact, do not TAKE intimate photos in the first place – Android and iOS can be real bitches: Once, Google+ posted four of my personal photos on my Android phone directly to my public account without warning; another time, my entire phone image bank found its way to my Dropbox folder in my office Mac computer for the entire team to see without me realising it.
If you’re trying to be famous, of course, do the opposite of the above. But then do thank the websites that helped you along the way.