First Social Media babies are growing up and they’re horrified

First Social-Media Babies Are Growing Up

My baby pictures and videos are the standard compendium of embarrassment.

I was photographed waddling in nothing but a diaper, filmed smearing food all over my face instead of eating it.

But I’m old enough that the kompromat is safe in the confines of physical photo albums and VHS tapes in my parents’ attic.

Even my earliest digital activity—posting emotional MySpace photo captions and homemade music videos—took place in the new and unsophisticated internet of the early 2000s, and has, blissfully, been lost to time.

I feel relief whenever I’m reminded of those vanished artifacts, and even more so when I see pictures and videos of children on the internet today, who won’t be so lucky.

In December, I watched a TikTok of two young sisters named Olivia and Millie opening Christmas presents.

When the large boxes in front of them turned out to contain two suitcases, Millie, who appeared to be about 4 years old, burst into tears. (Luggage, unsurprisingly, was not what she wanted from Santa.)

Her parents scrambled to explain that the real presents—tickets to a four-day Disney cruise—were actually inside the suitcases, but Millie was too far gone.

She couldn’t stop screaming and crying.

Nine million strangers watched her breakdown, and thousands of them commented on it.

“This is a great ad for birth control,” one wrote. (The TikTok has since been deleted.)

Two decades ago, this tantrum would have been just another bit of family lore, or at worst, a home video trotted out for relatives every Christmas Eve.

But now, thoughtless choices made years ago—a keg stand photographed, a grocery-store argument taped—can define our digital footprints, and a generation of parents like Millie’s are knowingly burdening their children with an even bigger online dossier.

The children of the Facebook era—which truly began in 2006, when the platform opened to everyone—are growing up, preparing to enter the workforce, and facing the consequences of their parents’ social-media use.

Many are filling the shoes of a digital persona that’s already been created, and that they have no power to erase.

Caymi Barrett, now 24, grew up with a mom who posted Barrett’s personal moments—bath photos, her MRSA diagnosis, the fact that she was adopted, the time a drunk driver hit the car she was riding in—publicly on Facebook. (Barrett’s mother did not respond to requests for comment.)

The distress this caused eventually motivated Barrett to become a vocal advocate for children’s internet privacy, including testifying in front of the Washington State House earlier this year.

But before that, when Barrett was a teen and had just signed up for her first Twitter account, she followed her mom’s example, complaining about her siblings and talking candidly about her medical issues.

Barrett’s audience of younger users are the ones who pointed out the problem, she told me.

Her internet friends started “reaching out to me, being like, ‘Hey, maybe you should take this down,’” she said.

Today’s teens are similarly wary of oversharing.

They joke on TikTok about the terror of their peers finding their parents’ Facebooks. Stephen Balkam, the CEO of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute, says that even younger children might experience a “digital coming-of-age” and the discomfort that comes with it.

“What we’ve seen is very mature 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds sitting down with their parents, going, ‘Mum, what were you thinking?’” he told me. Continue reading

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