Thursday, September 27, 2007

Let them lead the way

There's been some discussion on Ravelry recently about posting photos of children on one's blog. Queasy stories about folks grabbing those pictures, altering them to have the appearance of child pornography, and posting or trading them. And the threat (although I don't know of any actual instances) of pedophiles tracking down your kids in real life after finding them on your blog.

I know a lot of parent-bloggers give their children blog-nicknames in order to avoid posting their real names (presumably for fear of child predators knowing too much about them). Some of those bloggers do post pictures of their kids; others refrain from doing so.

The range of opinion seems to be "you can't do too much to keep kids safe" on the one hand, to "you can't stop information about your kids getting out of your control, pretending you can promotes a false sense of security, and kids are actually safer today than they've ever been" on the other.

Obviously I use my children's names on this blog, and I post occasional pictures. I'm a proud parent, my kids are one of my primary topics, and I never bothered to change my original real-name practices from years ago when I started the old blog. But every time I read a blog that masks the identity of family members mentioned in the text, I wonder whether I should change my ways.

On the flip side, I don't want to hide my own identity on the blog. I tend to agree with Jeff Atwood that writing that's attributed to an identifiable person has a credibility advantage. I want to be associated with what I write, and I want what I write to be associated with me. And I want people who know me in real life to be able to find my blog, and those who know me through the blog to be able to find out more about my work. If I'm going to use my own real name, how anonymous are my children really going to be?

I'd like to hear your opinions about this, readers and friends. If you have a family, what's your practice about discussing them online, and why? If you're a reader of blogs with different strategies for addressing this situation, what do you think is most reasonable, readable, appealing, and appropriately security-conscious?


Eric Grubbs said...

Personally, I enjoy it when you share your photos of your family. It helps me, the reader, get a better understanding of you, the person.

In my case with my blog, I use my real name and talk about stuff that is going on in my head. But there are topics that I choose to not discuss in the blogosphere for privacy issues. However, they are not matters I keep as secrets. I think it's a matter of balance.

Maureen said...

I sometimes think I should be more security conscious about my kids on my blog, but honestly, the blog is essentially a way to let other people (i.e. friends and family) keep tabs on what is going on with my kids, so it seems ridiculous to avoid saying their names. I tend to be fairly coy about my real name online, but I'm sure it's not hard to find out. I don't really expect anyone who doesn't know me to even find my blog remotely interesting, so I don't publicize it, nor do I write it with the general public in mind. I do, however, try to limit my kid photos to ones in which they are clothed (unless they're older and I wasn't thinking that way then). Recent pictures of my kids in bathing suits don't generally make it to the blog. Pictures of my son in his sister's skirt are fair game.

I also sort of use the blog as a public journal of my kids' lives: sort of like a virtual scrapbook (since I'm not organized enough to do actual scrapbooks).

I do try not to vent against real people that I know in my blog (celebrities are definitely ok). I'd hate for someone to inadvertently find themselves on the receiving end of a blog rant.

Doc Thelma said...

I tend to err on the side of caution and not use real names on the blog, though I do post pictures. Even with the password protection.

I do sometimes with other people could locate my blog by googling my name, (not that I have the vast collection of old flames that you do ;) but I figure anyone who really wanted to find me could do so via my college's homepage, email me and I could direct them to the blog from there.

And then I think of the few individuals I wouldn't want to find me....

the secret knitter said...

How much space do you have? (Maybe you've just given me an entry.)

As you know, I have a blog under my real name, and I have this identity. Even if my true identity is not that hard to uncover, blogging with a pseudonym has given me the freedom to express myself in ways I don't know that I would have felt comfortable doing with my name. I've wondered if it isn't time to drop the charade, but for now I like that I can stay in the knitting subculture and not be concerned with outsiders intruding.

My rule of thumb has been not to name family members or anyone who is unaware of the site, in part so they won't find the blog but also because I figure it's not something they bargained for. Plus, if they can't speak up for themselves, then I don't think it's fair to name them. I have no problem naming those who also read the site because it has become, much to my surprise, a small circle of friends.

In general, I think it's best to blog using one's name. It's wise to exercise some caution, but I have faith that most people out there aren't psychotic types looking to stalk you, do terrible things with photos of one's kids, etc.

I like that you present yourself as you are. (For those who haven't met her, what you read is what you get. Actually, even better.) If you were keeping your readers at arm's length, I don't think your blog would be as good. I like the family photos too. Your love for them shines through in your words and is reinforced in the pictures. How can that be wrong?

Oh, and way to rub it in that you're in Ravelry. ;)

Jenn said...

For some reason, I usually avoid references to my exact location, even though I probably drop enough clues that anyone could figure it out. But I don't really have a problem discussing my family or boyfriend or my own self on my blog. Of course, I also don't have kids, so I'm not really afraid that anyone will stalk my family.

I really like seeing pics of your kids and listening to you tell stories about them. For one, it's nice to hear about someone I know, for another, it reminds me that I can (someday) be both academic and a mom. You're an encouragement and inspiration to me.

Ali said...

Read Sweet Juniper of yesterday to uncover another creepy aspect of your children's photos on the Web: corporate theft of them to use for marketing purposes.

Ali said...

"My asshole footprint" is the Sweet Juniper entry to read (yesterday's entry) re: the danger of Flickr photo theft.

dougb0 said...

A few years ago, I had lots of personal/family information on my home page - birthday (how stupid was that?), wife's name, kids' names, and tons of family photos. I took all that off a couple of years ago for privacy and security purposes, mostly to protect my family, not me.

I tend to be very free with my own name and identity and picture. Lots of people in my field (esp. women, for good reason) are not. I'm not one to replace my real email address with the version that has "(at)" and "(dot)" in place of the actual symbols.

Interestingly, I never knew you had this blog until another nameless family member used my computer and left the blog's name in the Google search box.

--Posted by someone who may or may not be a relative of yours

Adam Villani said...

I blog and comment using my real name (except in a handful of situations) for several reasons. One, to avoid situations where people that know me in real life don't know the pseudonym-me. Another is so that people can find me by just searching on my real name.

I post a lot of photos online, but I do realize that my blog is a public forum, so I don't post any private information and I even clear photos of my wife that I want to post online with her before posting them.

I also don't post much of what I would consider "personal stuff" online, except for the photos. Some people keep a livejournal or something where they just talk about stuff in their lives, or a bad day at work, etc. but I don't do that. I talk about places I visit or opinions I have about the world around me, but not, generally, my opinions about people, stuff at work, etc.

Basically I post so that I'm comfortable showing my blog to people whom I consider my acquaintances; I consider the audience of my blog to be acquaintances and friends, but I know it's available to the general public.

For example, I think most of the people that I'm even in fairly frequent contact with online don't know my wife's last name. Most don't know where I work, either.