Social Outcasts in the 21st Century

The thought process leading up to this post was inspired by those parents who set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for their babies from the day they're born - and sometimes even before.

It runs the gamut, from people who use photos of their baby or child as their own social networking profile picture, to whole accounts written first-person as though their offspring is just a character to be portrayed online.

Now, I'm not actually judging people for doing that - it has its benefits for friends and family, as you can keep everyone updated without having to email out endless baby photos and make hundreds of phone calls each time the thing burps or sleeps or cries.

Rather, I'm wondering about the babies who don't have profiles set up for them. Like a grown-up who's never had a credit card, and finds themselves refused for a loan due to having no credit history, will these forerunners of the new generation find that their lack of a Facebook timeline will ultimately turn them from outriders to outcasts?

The Value of Social

People are often confused by big-money internet buyouts. Why pay a billion dollars for a social network? Well, the value isn't in the network itself, but in its potential - and there's nothing unusual about buying something on that basis.

You buy food for its nutritional potential, but the way you prepare it and the parts you discard can affect how much fat and protein is in the finished dish. A carpenter buys wood for its potential to become furniture - but until he's carved and joined it, it's not going to make him any profit.

It's the same online, whether you're talking about an entire social network, or a single account. Almost a year into my freelance career, I'm nearing 1,000 followers on Twitter. My account has to be worth more now than it was a year ago, when I had, like, seven followers... right?

In my case it's more clear-cut - I actually do make money from people I've met on Twitter becoming paying clients. It's hard to put a figure on it, but I'm appreciative of having it there as a way to make new contacts, both as clients and within the freelance copywriting community.

Who Are You?

All of those are business concerns really, but socialising is increasingly measured using web metrics - number of Facebook friends, number of Twitter followers. The 'cool kids' are the ones who get replies from celebrities, or who have the most followers. And those things take time to establish - believe me, I've been running since 1998 and longevity alone has made mine a name that Donna Air recognises.

So if you wait until your child is 13 before getting them a Facebook account, have you held them back from over a decade of social network growth? Particularly in light of the introduction of Facebook Timeline?

I can't help but feel, balancing the need for an online presence with rational parental fears about paedophilia and other online nastiness, that creating an account might actually be the best approach - like a social trust fund for your child, you can retain a degree of control until they reach a certain age, and then gradually hand the account over to them as they reach maturity.

This isn't the conclusion I expected to come to, but I can foresee a world where follower counts are a common feature of CVs for people who are particularly well connected, whatever industry they may be in. I'd hate to think I'd held my child back from over a decade of early-years networking, while other babies' parents gave them a headstart in an increasingly web-dominated world.


Sally Todd said...

Now this is quite topical for me having a 12 year old daughter who incidentally is not yet on Facebook, or twitter or any other form of social media. Until last week of course when I helped her set up her very own blog.
She has no desire what so ever to be on Facebook and has seen friends bullied and through my own Facebook chat facility been the victim of trickery from spiteful friends (hers, not mine).
Indeed there were important lessons learnt about the person or persons behind the message and this applies to text messaging. In my mind it is a tricky place and one best left to streetwise adults. Sure I have slapped pictures of my kids on there for friends and family to see but wouldn't dream of setting up an account in my child's name for the sake of a few extra followers for a CV. I actually think it is a little creepy. I may or may not have done this for my dog though! :o)

Nickie said...

Whilst I agree that the online world will be second nature to the next generation, I think they need to be encouraged to experience life as well or they'll have nothing to talk about with their online connections.

If you create an online profile for your child, it becomes your creation rather than theirs. The whole point of a social media profile is to promote yourself. I know for a fact that my image of my children (and grandchildren) is definitely not how they see themselves so they should be encouraged to create their own niche and persona - just like we encourage them in real life.

bobble said...

Thanks Sally! You're right, it's a bit creepy... and cyber-bullying often seems to get overlooked in favour of alarming reports about paedophiles. I hadn't actually even considered (in this particular instance) that young people might be bullied by their Facebook 'friends' etc. Your dog's probably fairly safe though, I haven't seen too many reports of rampant bestialists stalking the social networks - it would give a whole new meaning to 'dog grooming'...!

bobble said...

Nickie, you're right there too - it's always a bit odd seeing a baby tweet in their own voice when they're still in nappies. And it honestly does always make me feel a bit uncomfortable. I just wonder if there might come a time when it's expected that everyone's online presence will begin almost from the moment they're born... I suppose if that were to happen, it wouldn't be a shining example of progress, though!

Bare Faced Chic said...

I don't think I would set up a facebook profile for my child. I was in fact banned from posting pictures of my nephew after he was born to avoid potential paedophiles and I do have one friend who shut down her facebook profile which had pictures of her daughter on after she received a number of rather unpleasant messages.
But I do think that as much as the potential for a child to be groomed by a paedophile is completely horrific, the risk is comparatively small compared to the risk of them being cyber-bullied. The cyber-bullying of grown up professionals through internet trolls is bad enough and I'm not sure I would ever want to expose my child to that until I was certain that they had the confidence and social skills to deal with it. Bullying is horrendous in all its forms but the internet gives people a distance from the situation which seems to make them more vicious. And that is what concerns me.

bobble said...

Thanks - it does sound like cyber-bullying is a major concern for parents. Purely playing devil's advocate (and as someone who was bullied quite a lot at school) I'd say my confidence actually came from being bullied and realising that the bullies were less 'good' people than me. If I was totally insulated from those experiences, I don't think I'd have as much self-confidence as I do now. But I've also seen people utterly broken by bullies with a seemingly one-person vendetta, so I'm not saying bullying's a good thing at all. I suppose the best approach is to realise that the same distance that gives online bullies their extra dose of spite, also makes it much less likely that they'll follow through with any of their threats - but yes, it may just be easier to remove your child from that situation completely until they're old enough to cope with whatever comes their way!

Nickie said...

"everyone's online presence will begin almost from the moment they're born"

But it has in a way - people tweet pictures of their newborn - hell, I even know the woman who was the first person to tweet through their labour - fame BEFORE you're born!

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