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damage control

The question

We are going away over the winter holidays with some extended family. How can I make sure my sister-in law does not post pictures of our children on Instagram? This is happening more and more with friends and family. People are posting pictures of our children with their children on Instagram without our permission. How can I gently ask people not to do this? I’d prefer if people don’t know we are away and I am also tired of living in a “reach for your phone and take a picture every three seconds planet."

The answer

I hear you.

I have always hated having my picture taken – mostly I think because I had a dad who was a real shutterbug, if I may use such an old-fashioned expression.

He wrecked every moment, so it seemed to my childish self, by trying to capture it. Just as we were having fun and/or doing something interesting: “Everyone freeze! Time for a picture!”

(To date the story even further, he had a Rolleiflex, one of those cameras you stare down the top of, which had two lenses: one you see through, the other snapping the actual picture, for unknown, antiquated reasons.)

But those were ye olden days. What’s worse is what’s happening now. Everyone taking selfies and whatnot, walking off cliffs, into fountains, into lampposts – as you say living in a “reach for your phone and take a picture every three seconds planet” –then posting everything on social media.

I particularly don’t like it and think it’s royally unfair when someone takes a picture – or worse, a video – of me and posts it online.

“Oh hey, Dave, you were ‘tagged’ on Facebook/Instagram.” What gives you the right? I don’t want it, and as you say, didn’t consent to it.

I tried to ban video from my wedding, but someone sneaked a camera in, and took some guerrilla-style footage, which I felt very upset by. Can we never be free?

There’s been a term coined for people posting pictures (particularly of children) on Instagram and Facebook and whatnot without the parents’ permission: “digital kidnapping.”

Which might sound a bit extreme to some, but not to me. Post a picture of anyone (and worst: a kid) on social media, and anything could happen to it.

It could become a “meme,” which is what happened to an Alabama woman a few years ago who was horrified to find that a picture of her 16-month-old daughter, posted on Instagram, had become a “meme” and the target of numerous mean-spirited comments, including suggesting that her daughter (who was perfectly healthy) had cancer.

Social media – oy: don’t get me started. One day in the far-off future, anthropologists, wearing their silver lamé jumpsuits (what I assume everyone will wear in the future), will float down in their hover-cars to sift through the ruins of our civilization and find precisely nothing, because it was all digital. We will have left no trace.

But I digress. Back to your case: Technically, what is called “digital kidnapping” is illegal, but ask any lawyer and they will say in effect: “Whew, you don’t want to go down that rabbit hole.”

(Both Facebook and Instagram have some fine print about “image privacy rights,” but imagine trying to pursue that rabbit down its hole.)

Anyway, we’re just talking about your sister-in-law here, so no need to get severe. Why not just ask her nicely to cease and desist?

“Nicely” being the operative word. Something along the lines of: “Please be so kind as to not take snaps of my kid and post them online.” You could explain further, as you implied to me: “I feel like it could be a safety issue.”

I’d be very surprised if your sister-in-law didn’t respond favourably. What’s she going to say? “Oh no, I disagree and I’m going to keep posting these pictures online”?

I’m sure she will respect your wishes and do the right thing.

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