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How Would You Feel if a Photo of Your Kid Went Viral?

A headline on Twitter today stopped me in my tracks. Someone ‘Catfished’ My Kids and They Went Viral, it said.

As a blogger, as a parenting blogger, as a queer parenting blogger, something happening to my family because of what I do or say online is a very real fear.

I clicked through to the article on Mommyish. As I read, a terrible feeling formed in my gut.

You see, the ‘catfishing’ incident in question involved a picture of a boy in a pink cast trying to hold a little girl’s hand. I knew that picture. I’d come across that picture on Pinterest months earlier. I’d repinned that picture, and been repinned myself.

When a photo goes viral

The photo that’s been circulating belongs to Carinn Jade, the author of the article and mom of the two children pictured. Also circulating with the photo is a Facebook comment that tells the story of a seven-year-old boy who asked for a pink cast. When the doctor told him pink was a girl color, he shot back “there are no girl colors or boy colors” and said he wanted a pink one because it was Breast Cancer Awareness month.

The photo and the comment went viral.

Carinn explains that she’s very protective of her kids’ identities online, never naming them and being careful with their photos. So I can completely understand feeling uneasy and regretful that a picture of her kids was seen by millions of people all over the world when she never imagined it would travel so far.

But Carinn gave permission to the photography site that posted the original image, so there’s no real blame on that score.

Now, most of the rebloggers and Tumblrs and pinners assumed, as I did, that the boy in the photo was also the boy in the story. But they aren’t the same boy. The commenter was simply relating a story about her own son and his pink cast. She wasn’t intentionally trying to pass off the photo as her own, though, so there’s no foul there either.

Where it gets strange is when Carinn tells us there’s another woman claiming that the boy in the photo and the doctor-scolding boy are one and the same, and that that boy is her son. Very weird. Why would someone claim to be the mother of someone else’s child? For attention, probably. For clicks and traffic. Kind of makes you feel icky, doesn’t it?

How do we protect our kids online?

I’ve tried to imagine how I’d feel if a photo of my daughter went viral without my wanting it to, especially if it was tied to a story about her that wasn’t her at all. I’d be a little shaken too, especially if I was the one who’d given permission for that photo to be shared.

The hard truth is, there are people out there who will exploit your children for all kinds of reasons: because they think they can make a buck, because they’re weird and that’s what they do, because they’re looking for victims and on and on.

The Internet can be a creepy place. Once photos or information are out there, in the ether, they can’t ever be stuffed back in the box. What people do with them is entirely beyond your control.

If you share on the Internet, there might also be times when your kids are exposed unintentionally and unmaliciously.

As a parent, what precautions do you take about posting photos and details of your kids’ lives online? Do you have extra concerns because you’re a queer parent?

I’m extremely cautious but I see other parents sharing photos daily. I’d love to know where you stand.

What do you think?

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