Never having indulged in Facebook (for obvious reasons; as JuliaM puts it with admirable clarity, ‘Facebook and teachers - like matter and anti-matter’), it was something of a surprise to be asked about a recent celebration by someone who had seen me in candid pictures taken and posted by one of the guests, a mutual friend, who had also included a picture taken in front of my house. Not being signed up, I couldn’t be tagged by name, but I was still clearly recognisable to anyone who knows me by sight.
I appreciate that this makes me sound old-fashioned, but this felt like a major invasion of privacy. While I might equally well, in the past, have figured in printed photos shown to friends or colleagues, appearing in digital form online and reliant on someone else’s privacy settings makes me distinctly uncomfortable, particularly given the inclusion of my home (with associated geolocation).
I’ve long been uneasy about putting images in the public domain (so much so that, along with a handful of other die-hards, I refused to obey the Head’s diktat requiring individual portrait photos for the school website - I know how good some teenagers are with photoshop). It seems petty to be annoyed about it - and a snap of bunch of fifty-somethings chatting round a lunch table is hardly going to cause a sensation - but I do feel there is a principle at stake here.
This attitude is presumably incomprehensible to youngsters who, seduced by the lure of social media and the world of the influencer - not to mention numerous attention-seeking celebrities constantly pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in the public domain - are constantly aiming for maximum online exposure. Unfortunately for them, the internet is an unforgiving place; put a picture of your youthful indiscretions online (or have one posted by someone else) and there’s no telling when it may come back to bite you.
There’s a good deal of sense in the words of a wise Headmaster (rare, but they do exist) who advised pupils not to post anything online which they would not be happy to see on the side of a bus driving down the High Street the next day. Sadly, staffroom anecdotal evidence suggests many teenagers take a very different attitude: in the words of one world-weary colleague, “It’s a full-time job trying to stop them putting their tits all over the internet”.
From long professional association with them, I’d argue that teenagers should be equipped with a sign on their foreheads reading ‘Under Construction’ to remind people - themselves included - that there is a great deal of essential rewiring happening inside, not least in the areas governing risk-taking and self-image. Once upon a time, unwary and over-bold adolescents might end up inside a sabre-toothed tiger; these days, they may well find themselves exposed, so to speak, on a global stage.
If Twitter is, in the words of the Tavern’s Wise Woman, ‘ the world’s biggest lavatory wall’, then the world of social media provides the digital equivalent of the school bike sheds as the scene of myriad nefarious activities intended mainly to show off to one’s peers and enjoy the thrill of breaking rules - with the significant difference that what happens there could now be available for all to see.
Time will tell whether this becomes a problem with future employers or partners - and the undiscovered country ahead includes the thorny question of how tomorrow’s children will react to seeing in glorious technicolour what their parents got up to in their salad days - but I, for one, am glad there’s no record out there of my irresponsible youth.