I love babies, and I’m so happy that this year the stork is bringing quite a few in my life whom I can coo and cradle and talk to about the world and they will stare at me with eyes wide in amazement (and when they start crying I can hand them back to their parents).

The excitement starts from before: thanks to ultrasounds I’ve been seeing these babies grow inch by inch in their mothers’ tummy. I still have all of my daughter’s scan photos even though I have to peer at them with squinted eyes to maybe glimpse the shape of a bean. Twelve years on, ultrasounds are much more sophisticated and when parents show them to me, I’m in awe at how now you can clearly see all the baby’s features.

In fact, you’re bound to have chanced upon an ultrasound image of random babies shared on social media: it’s the fashion of the moment. You just bought a Dior clutch bag, post it on social media; you’re trying on a pair of shiny shoes, post it on social media; you have a wee embryo in your tummy, post in on social media. The result is that photos of little bairns, not yet born, are going viral, with people commenting, discussing and discepting them.

It’s becoming so fashionable that the Data Protection Commissioner Saviour Cachia took to national television to say hey-what-on-earth. In no uncertain terms, he said that parents-to-be should be banned from uploading photos of their ultrasounds on social media “to safeguard the privacy of their unborn children”.

Mr Cachia was clearly frustrated that his hands are tied on this: an unborn child is not yet registered with a name and therefore the data protection rules don’t really apply.

He went on to condemn the parents for “stealing their baby’sown privacy” before they were even born and even after. By posting their bambino’s every teeny burp, they were not even realising how they could be “seriously damaging the children”.

Damage? How can a Like, or a ‘godblesslilekjixbah’, or a heart emoji damage a baby? Once you post a photo on social media, your friends can share it and their friends in turn share it, and so on, and so forth and as the Data Protection Commissioner explained, you never know if the photo of your baby has ended up in the hands of an online criminal who has no qualms cropping your child’s face and sharing it on the lawless Dark Web – where it can never be pulled out again. 

Another thing: I don’t suppose I would be properly interacting with my children if I’m all the time thinking, “Let me chat to the baby and film myself on Instagram doing it/let me take my son to the swings because it will look good as a pic on fb.” I guess I would be thinking more about how good the child will make me look rather than his well-being.

Incidentally, this week, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Sally Davies, issued a parental guide on children’s use of technology. And she started off by rebuking the parents: curb your own oversharing, she told them. How can you discuss the misuse of photos, words and videos online with your children if you do it yourself, she asked. “Parents and carers should never assume that children are happy for their photos to be shared.”

There is a worrying link between teenage suicide and spending more than four hours a day on social media apps

It’s very easy to get sucked into the online world, and feel an emptiness if you don’t share your life, and it is for this reason that in the UK parents are urged to ban smartphones from the dinner table (do it!) until bed time; screen-free meals mean that adults and children can have proper conversations as opposed to grunts when everyone’s face is glued to the screen.

Incidentally, this is the norm for children of technology giants. They know first-hand how much time and effort goes into making the virtual world irresistible and addictive – they are very much aware how people’s desire to belong is being exploited. In short, they want their children to have a childhood in private not a public one.

Apple’s Steve Jobs prohibited his kids from using the newly-released iPad. The current Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has said that he doesn’t allow his nephew to join online social networks. Apple/Google/Facebook workers scramble to send their children to tech-free schools.

Here, instead, the scramble is who gets to social media first. Last year, my 13-year old filjozza was the only one in her grade without an Instagram account. Her peers had all opened theirs aged nine or 10. Given that it is illegal to have a social media account (even if it’s a private one!) under the age of 13, they had all obviously faked their birthday and lied about their age. Can parents, please, not be okay with this? (This includes the Prime Minister himself, whose 11-year-olds are on social media).

UK statistics show that there is a worrying link between teenage suicide and self-harm and spending more than four hours a day on social media apps. Wouldn’t it be better to act before we reach the same numbers?

St Paul wouldn’t be our patron saint if he had shipwrecked today. Everyone would just have been busy taking selfies with the shipwreck and no one would have noticed his viper taming. He would just have been left alone muttering “Erm, the viper just bit me, but I’m alive”, until someone would have told him: “Paul pout a bit please, for a piccie with my pregnant tummy”.

Twitter: @krischetcuti

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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