Social media etiquette for Jim Carrey (and everyone else)

Actor Jim Carrey has apologized for tweeting the photo of a child with autism and tuberous sclerosis without asking for permission from the boy’s parents.

Carrey has removed the photo, which illustrated a post in his ongoing campaign against what he and a small but vocal faction of people believe are vaccines containing neurotoxins that cause autism.

The claim has been widely discredited, and the 1998 study on which it was founded has been deemed fraudulent.

The tweet without the photo:

The tweet came in the wake of California having passed one of the nation’s strictest childhood vaccination requirements last week: a law that eliminates parents’ ability to claim “personal belief” exemptions to school children’s vaccine requirements in the state’s schools.

Carrey had tweeted a picture of Karen Echols’ son Alex in protest over the legislation.

The Guardian reports that the boy’s aunt, Elizabeth Welch, posted the tweet on Instagram and accused Carrey of using the post to “mock” him and and his family, and that vaccinations played no part in his condition.

Karen Echols then asked Carrey to remove the image:

…which he did, with an apology:

Social media etiquette tips

Neglecting to ask parents for permission before posting photos of their children is a social media faux pas, and Jim Carrey certainly isn’t the first to discover that after the fact.

Parental forums are full of posts that don’t mince words on this topic. Here’s an example, from babycenter.com, titled “i hate facebook. stop posting pics of my baby!”:

i'm so annoyed. i hate how anyone can just post pictures of you and your baby. i never used to be like this but i've become increasingly private, especially about my kids. i don't need my personal photos for my mom's 400 "friends" to see. people who came to the hospital don't need to post their own photos. if i forward my family pictures they don't need to take it upon themselves to re-post to facebook. but i feel like such a bitch saying "can you please take down these photos of my family?"...or that i seem paranoid. i just don't like it!

No, you’re not paranoid, “erinandbrian”. People are like out-of-control paparazzi around both kids and adults, and far too many of them ignore privacy principles when snapping and posting.

In fact, a recent study commissioned by Nominet for its online safety campaign knowthenet found that 25% of people surveyed never ask permission of the people in photos before posting, and 53% have uploaded a photo of a child that wasn’t their own.

Mind you, parents aren’t excluded from oversharing their children’s images online.

The study found that 17% of parents ignore privacy settings and still post hundreds of photos of their kids online.

The study found that the average parent uploads an eyeball-popping 973 photos of their child on social media by the time he or she reaches the age of 5.

A few years ago, Amy Webb wrote a piece for Slate titled We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online.

She reasoned that this approach is:

the only way to defend her against facial recognition, Facebook profiling, and corporate data mining.

Naked Security subsequently ran a poll asking readers if posting photos of your child on Facebook makes you a bad parent.

Most of you – 72% – answered, quite reasonably, “No, but I’m careful about what information I post about my children.”

If you’d like to pass on some tips for those people in your life who could use a bit of a primer on using social media in a way that protects people’s rights – at any age – here are some tips:

  • Check your privacy settings.
    Take a look at your social network’s privacy settings and make sure you change them from the default if necessary to button down privacy. Don’t overshare; rather, be careful about posting information about yourself, your family or your friends. Lock down social media accounts so you’re not publicly sharing things like photos or when you’re away on vacation. Facebook, for one, translated its privacy policy into plain English in November, which should help. As should these 5 tips to make your Facebook account safer.
  • Think before you upload.
    Common courtesy requires us to ask if it’s OK before we post photos of others. It doesn’t matter how adorable a photo is or if you’re trying to illustrate your concern about vaccines. If the photo isn’t yours, make sure to ask for permission before you post it. After all, once that photo’s online, it’s practically impossible to stamp it out.
  • Keep up to date.
    Social networks regularly add new features and update their own settings, so it’s important to stay on top of them.
  • Stay in control.
    Don’t use social networks as a replacement for your own photo albums or hard drive storage, and remember that some social networks will obtain rights to your images once you’ve uploaded them.

How to avoid the flame wars

Besides rules about images, there are also plenty of social media etiquette rules to avoid creating the scene of torch-bearing villagers outraged over simple misunderstandings.

I’m thinking here about the supposed “creep” shamed on Facebook who was actually just taking a selfie with a Darth Vader cut-out.

Cue the torch-wielders, hurling death threats at the guy who’d been incorrectly blamed for snapping photos of others’ kids. Then, cue the torch-wielders who turned on the mother who made the incorrect assumption and posted an unjust accusation.

What a mess. How about these rules instead?

Before posting, consider:

  • If it would be better to send a message to a specific audience instead of broadcasting it publicly.
  • If the content could offend somebody, and if so, are you OK with that?
  • If you’ve posted something already, could repeatedly posting it be considered offensive?
  • Is the post is clear, or is it vague and could be misinterpreted?
  • Is the post well-reasoned or are you emotionally venting?

That’s far from an exhaustive list, of course.

Readers, what rules would you add to the list, whether it’s for Jim Carrey, yourself or the online community in general?

Jim-Carrey-2008” by Noemi Nuñez – http://www.flickr.com/photos/caotiquemind/3106983761/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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