Monday, July 18, 2011

What will be the effect in years to come on babies who have a digital identity before they are even born?

Over the last few days I have been doing some research for a talk I am giving student midwives about social media and the way it impacts on childbirth choices for women. What I have found has been very interesting but left me with more questions than answers.

Digital identity, pregnancy and babies
What I have found fascinating in my latest research is the statistics about how parents are using the Internet to share stories about birth, and broadcast videos and pictures about their pregnancy, birth and young children. And as far as I can tell, there has been little commentry about this and certainly no long term research looking at the effects on children as they grow up.

Ross Dawson reported in 2010 that:
  • In Canada, 37% babies have a digital identity before they are born
  • Australia/NZ 41% newborns are on the net
  • USA 92% children have an online presence by the time they are 2 years old
The parents responsibility toward their child's digital identity
Susan Bainbridge wrote an insightful blog post about this issue last year: Protecting the digital identity of my unborn child. In it she said:

I jokingly said that we needed to be careful what we said and how we said it because we could upset a teenage Asher in the future.... Then it hit us - this is a big deal. We are responsible for our unborn son's digital identity, for now anyway.

His young life will be very public.And none of it will go anywhere. Once it's on the web, it's on the web forever. How will he feel about that one day? Where will the future of the web head and is it anywhere our son will even want to be? Are we ok to make that call on his behalf? Now? Before he's even born?

And it isn't just parents who talk about their babies. I was struck a few weeks ago about the very personal nature of the comments made by a grandmother on Facebook about her sick grandchild. I have no idea if she had her daughter's permission to talk about the baby but I did wonder how "appropriate" it was.

Future research
I suspect this is an issue that many parents haven't even thought about. We know that people do not think about their own digital identity and footprint so I imagine they think even less about the impact of digital identity on their unborn babies. I think this is an area that needs longitudinal research. And maybe educating parents about their use of the Internet and digital identity is something that midwives need to pay more attention to? What do you think?

Have you talked about your pregnancy, birth or baby online? Have you ever thought about what your baby would think in years to come? Have you considered how you manage your baby's online 'brand'? Does it matter?

Do you know of any research that has been carried out on this topic? I'd be really grateful for your thoughts and/or references.

Image: 'Free Child Buried in The Sand Creative+Commons'


Connecting With Kids Project said...

If it becomes widespread that employers seeking to fill key positions commission deep internet searches on short listed candidates, such things as birth problems, low birth weight or parental circumstances in the time before and after the birth may count for a lot given the Barker Hypothesis- which posits that these life events and influences count a great deal and last through-out life. for mor eon Barker Hypothesis see

Sarah Stewart said...

Wow...this is a really interesting thought and not one that should be ignored, I'm thinking. Thanks for brining it to my attention.

Sarah Stewart said...

I'm re-printing the link you left because I am not sure it was included properly in your comment:

Claire Thompson said...

Interesting topic, Sarah. I post my kids' photos on photo sharing sites, and short videos on video sharing sites to share with friends and family. I'm always pretty careful not to be too specific regarding names or locations--so my main concerns have had to do with safety. I've also tried not to post things that the kids would find embarrassing now or when they are older. But your post has me wondering what I really have the right to post--it is their identity after all. Thanks for getting me thinking about this topic.

Sarah Stewart said...

Don't get me wrong, Claire, I am not criticisng...just musing aloud. The other way of looking at the online digital identity issue has been mooted by Dr Helen Barrett in her ePortfolio work:

Claire Thompson said...

Sarah, thanks for the link to Dr. Helen Barrett's presentation.

Unknown said...

Very interesting musing, Sarah! Now that I am a grandmother and live on the other side of the world from my grandchildren, FB is the most convenient way to share pictures and news.
However, it is well worth thinking about what is shared about babies and toddlers. Everybody should think about how their own digital picture looks like.
My prediction is that we will be in a more and more open digital society. There won't be much possibility to hide from those who want to research us on the net. So, I suggest that living a 'clean life' with not too many secrets is the answer.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hello Elina, lovely to hear from you. I have to say, I blog about my kids all the time, but they are grown up now and have their own Facebook pages so I don't worry too much about them. I love Helen Barrett's idea that we'll be able to trace our families via the Internet for generations to maybe having a digital identity will bring us together more rather than be a negative thing?