Mom's Facebook Privacy Lesson Backfires Like Whoa

I’ve mentioned before that successfully teaching kids about Internet safety is one of the things I would be most worried about accomplishing, should I choose to have any offspring of my own in the future. But hey, at least now I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of how not to do that!

The intentions were good: Amia is a 12-year-old girl who desperately wants her own Instagram and Facebook accounts. Her mother Kira, however, wouldn’t let her have one, citing Internet safety as the reason. Makes sense... But here’s where it all starts going south: In order to drive the lesson home to Amia, Kira took a photo of her daughter holding up a sign that read, “Mom is trying to show me how many people can see a picture once it’s on the Internet,” and posted it to her Facebook on Tuesday night. Kira’s description of the photo included the following instructions:

“My 12-year-old daughter doesn’t understand why she can’t have a Facebook or Instagram account… Please ‘like and share’… She just doesn’t get it! Make sure to first click on the picture, and then hit ‘Share,’ and change the setting to ‘public.’ That way, I get a clear number. Thank you!”

All well and good, right? Maybe...

...But then 4chan got a hold of the photo.

Based on the photo alone, 4chan found Kira’s Facebook page, her family’s home address, and her house’s phone number. On Wednesday night, they started prank calling the house, as well as ordering pizzas to be delivered to them. They also started editing the photo, replacing the text of the sign first with things like, “Free blowjobs at [Kira’s address]” — and finally with the lesson they wanted to teach Kira:

Kira took the photo down sometime after 11 p.m. on Wednesday night and deleted all the personal information from her Facebook page; hopefully she also adjusted the page’s privacy settings. Ultimately, though, I think it ended up being more of a learning experience for Kira than it was for Amia.

I do understand where Kira’s impulse to do this whole thing came from; one of the most effective ways to teach kids not to do something that have nasty consequences is to let them do it, have them experience the consequences, and then make sure they’ve learned the right lesson from it. But in the case of the Internet, this principle doesn’t work. If you’re afraid of someone taking your child’s photo and doing weird things to it if it ends up on the Internet…well, that’s going to happen whether you’re the one who launches it into cyberspace or whether your kid is. And even though Kira took the photo down, the problem is this: The Internet is forever. That image is probably still floating around; so, for that matter, are all of the Photoshopped versions 4chan slapped together — including the blowjob one. Amia is going to be the one to be suffering the effects of the incident, and they’ll probably follow her for a long, long time. Sure, that’s the lesson that Kira wanted to teach her — but isn’t the outcome exactly what she wanted to avoid?

Note to self: In order to teach children about Internet safety, have a private conversation with them. If an experiment is necessary to demonstrate the lesson, do it with a photo of a kitten or something instead.