Social Media for Parents… at least here’s how we’re gonna do it

My daughter just turned 13. Now, there is a whole list of things I’m not prepared for, and this is definitely high up on the list. She’s becoming a teenager and I feel like I need to prepare all of us for her upcoming participation in having and maintaining a presence online. Part of that preparation is figuring out how to parent in the age of social media and online activity. So I thought I’d take a moment to sit down and put our collective thoughts down on how we’re approaching this as a family. 

I suppose I should start out with where I stand on social media and online behavior. As a platform, I’m somewhat ambivalent about social media. I’m not generally a “social butterfly” and I certainly don’t derive any value with comparing myself to everyone else’s highlight reel. I do acknowledge it however; I enjoy the small circle of friends I keep and I appreciate (mostly) their insight, humor, and friendship (sometimes the politics can become a little noisy, but we’ve all encountered that in the age of Twitter leadership). I love my creative friends dearly, and I’ll never have relationships outside of family that are deeper and more impactful than my shipmates from the Navy who I maintain contact with some 30 years or so after serving.

That being said, as the parent two girls, I do have to acknowledge the power that social media and online platforms have over a population that’s younger, more impressionable, and lacking the overall experience in life that helps build a filter, or inoculate you, to the pitfalls of judging yourself against your peers (who may be better at presenting their optimal life).

So to start, when our kids were born, we exercised some basic rules that I think were helpful for the first dozen or so years. We (my wife and I) agreed to never post pictures of our kids online. There were several reasons for this. First and foremost, those pictures aren’t necessarily ours to post. They contain images of people who will forever have them online following them around, regardless of how effective we are at “locking them down”. I’d like you to imagine what your childhood would’ve been like if your friends had the ability to dig a little and uncover pictures of you at your most embarrassing. Awkward photos without context. Private images of you that you wouldn’t want friends (or “frenemies”) finding and being able to share with an audience wider than originally intended. That would’ve sucked, wouldn’t it? So we’ve taken great care to NOT post images of our children that we don’t feel like we have explicit permission to post (even though they’re our kids). I feel very strongly about the ownership of your own personal identity. I don’t think that I have permission to share images of my kids that will follow them around long after they’re 18 and have the right to decide what they want to share. I’ve effectively stolen that from them, and that’s not cool. Secondly, I understand the EULA that most social media sites adhere to, and until there’s federal privacy intervention, social platforms’ implied “ownership” of everything that I post on social media means that I’m effectively giving up my children’s likeness to people who don’t have my (or my children’s) best interest in mind. Again, NOT cool. I won’t give that up for anything. I’m a grown adult. I can make those decisions about relinquishing ownership of my likeness, but I’m not comfortable doing that for others who haven’t had the right or opportunity to weigh in.

We don’t post personal information. Period. People who we’re close to know our children’s names and basic personal information about them, but I’ll never publicly post where they’re going to school, what field trips they’re on, what events they’re attending. That shit is private and will remain so as long as those kids live under our roof. Again, this seems like basic common sense to me… your mileage may vary. They’re not allowed to use their real names when joining online communities (we’re a gaming family with Nintendo Switches, DSes, Xboxes, and Playstations) and for each of those communities they’ve selected “personas” that don’t contain any personal information. You’re not allowed to use your real name, you’re not allowed to say where you live, etc). You’re also not allowed to “chat” on platforms that allow it. No Roblox chat, no chatting in Minecraft, or Fortnite… you’re not allowed to participate (yet) in YouTube comment chains. You’re basically restricted from interacting with fellow gamers, unless it’s a vetted real-life friend who we personally know and can verify the username. I don’t mind them playing with friends from school, or the neighborhood, but people outside of that? No way, Jose. Off limits. That’s a big one we’ve discussed and everyone is on the same page. That’s a serious one to breach and can result in losing the privilege of playing.

Now those rules have sustained us pretty much for the last dozen or so years, but now we’re hitting some uncharted territory. Now I’ve got to help someone else manage and maintain a digital presence online in a way that prepares her for a future where privacy is a suggestion and oversharing is a way of life. Am I comfortable with it? Well, not entirely, but I’m gonna work hard to inoculate her to some of the bigger pitfalls and arm her with a little basic rucksack of social media awareness and a framework for her to participate… but not over-participate. 

So with her 13th birthday, I decided I’d give her a platform and an outlet. She’s creative and has an innate desire to “make things”, and I couldn’t be more proud of that. She loves to draw, she loves to write, and she’s doing both at a pace and volume that far exceeds any creative endeavors that I undertook at her age… and I want nothing more than to encourage and promote that. So I created a blog for her, and bought her a domain name of her own. She has a little nickname that she’s started using online for things like school related bulletin boards and online gaming and I chose that for several reasons. First, it’s not her real name, and isn’t even a variation of that. Second, it allows us all to create a barrier between her and her audience, whoever they are. And finally, it gives her a little more “freedom” to pursue thoughts and ideas without them being explicitly attached to her. She’s thirteen. Her ideas and thoughts and opinions are new and fresh, and she’s allowed to be malleable at her age without committing to an ideology and I like the idea that she has the freedom to explore her world in a way that doesn’t commit her for the rest of her life with having to explain or make excuses for any opinion she had in the past, right or wrong. 

Additionally, her blog is hers. Anything she uploads or posts is her Intellectual Property. She’s not relinquishing any rights or ownership to anything she creates or posts. I think this is a super valuable lesson for her to begin to understand in an age where Intellectual Property ownership is a real thing, and where social platforms are deriving a large part of their value from “owning” their user base. What comes out of her head is hers, and nobody else’s. She’s allowed to own it all, the good, the bad, the embarrassing, the brilliant. If she posts images (and the restriction is NO pictures of you, or your friends, no selfies, and no pictures that contain personal information) then they’re hers and nobody else has the right to ownership or to monetize them in any way that she doesn’t control. 

From an executional standpoint, I manage and maintain her online presence. I’m the administrator of her blog, and I get to see what she’s posting and control the look and feel. We work together to arrive at a design that she loves, and she’s an “author” with the appropriate user role that allows her to post, updated, edit, and delete posts, but that’s it. She can’t add other social platform integrations, etc. We’ve discussed allowing instagram integration in the future, but we’re going to walk before we run.

Is all this going to work? I honestly have no idea, but I’m not about to bury my head in the sand and hope that she uses her 13 year old brain and make the right decisions about establishing a presence online. I’m going to treat it just like everything else we’ve done and I’m going to give her access to the tools, provide some training wheels, and monitor how she proceeds before deciding when to pull the training wheels off, and how far she’s allowed to ride. I’m going to be pragmatic, but cautious, and I’m going to make sure she understands her ownership over her data and intellectual property before we cut her loose on the wild west world of social media and online communities. We’re going to start with her own personal platform that we (together with her) control and manage that allows her the flexibility to explore and create without giving up data and privacy.

We’re all new to this. None of this existed a decade ago, and as we all collectively, as parents, work on managing this brave new world, I’m focusing on developing an awareness of privacy and personal accountability that will serve her far beyond her teenage years. I don’t suspect we’re going to get it 100% right, but working in technology and data, I feel like I’m putting together a framework that gets us closer than we’ve ever been.

America’s Navy 2016 Army / Navy Game Facebook Live “Midshipmen March to the Stadium”

In an organization steeped in tradition, few resonate as deeply as the Midshipmen March to the Stadium, the annual tradition of marching United States Naval Academy Midshipmen to take their place inside the stadium for the annual Army Navy football game. It’s a spectacular sight and nothing galvanizes the worldwide Navy audience faster than the first appearance of the Midshipmen of Annapolis at the start of one of the most watched college football games of the year.

At the 2016 Army Navy Game, the 117th meeting between the Army Black Knights and the Navy Midshipmen, we deployed a team in a realtime social command center with video & photography support as well as live community management. The team embedded themselves within the atmosphere of the game, providing up to the minute activity across the Navy’s social channels. Engaging at times with over ten times the volume of social activity during the course of the day and generating high performing content.

The flexibility of the lean, agile team allowed for spontaneous content capture enabling us to respond in realtime. The US Navy’s first Facebook live broadcast of the march to the stadium generated over 280,000 views, 3,100 shares and 11,000 “reactions” over the course of its fifteen minutes.

“I hate that place”

I hear that so often these days. From friends, from co-workers, from Twitter followers. Seems like everyone hates Facebook.

So why are so many people still using it?

I don’t post pictures there. I don’t upload video there. My only participation is to use it as a broadcast medium to point to the place where I control the universe. Here. I might share a link or two, but they’re also shared here as well. I don’t want Facebook to actually have any of my content. It’s mine. Not theirs. They don’t have any right to my family photos, my videos, my thoughts, my ideas. They make money off my stuff. If all of a sudden everyone stopped giving Facebook all their shit, Facebook would be completely value-less. Facebook’s whole value is wrapped up in your eyeballs. Increasingly, they’re becoming a walled garden. I saw a post the other day comparing them to AOL, and I thought, “that’s perfect”. AOL used to be a lot of people’s “internet experience”. You’d sign on to their world, play around in their playground, interact with their users, then log off. Once you started sniffing around outside their walls, they were essentially done. People went, “waitaminute, you mean there’s all THIS out there? Why didn’t you tell me?”. Then it was all over for AOL.

Seems like the same thing’s happening with Facebook.

It’s the end of the year. Time for people to start writing those “retrospective” posts looking back on “the year that was” and a lot of them seem to be themed around the idea of “moving on from Facebook”. People seem to be coming around to the idea that there’s life beyond 500 million users. That juggernauts can be stopped cold in their tracks. That there will be a “next big thing” and they’re already starting. That can’t bode well for Facebook, but it could be good for users.

See, I think, as an idea, Facebook’s great. Share shit with your friends and family. As a platform, it’s been great as what I would call, “the first iteration” of that idea. Sort of a “here’s how you do it and make it easy for people”. What I think it’s failed at miserably though, is the obvious obsession with monetizing the idea. In an effort to somehow get money out of an idea that’s inherently NOT a money making idea, they’ve had to open the “social graph” to people who weren’t part of your conversation in the first place.

I was talking with my friends and family. Who invited Coca-Cola and Toyota?

Then there’s the whole notion of Facebook making money off of my life. Seriously? You take my photos, my videos, my thoughts, my ideas… and you monetize them so YOU make money? And you don’t offer me a cut? How does that work?

Turns out it doesn’t. At least not very well. In order for Facebook to make that money, they’ve got to run completely counter to their idea. They have to open what was originally a very closed idea. I liked it when the idea was closed. I liked it when I had friends, I could share, they could share, and that was our world. Now, this whole, open platform environment runs counter to my comfort level and the comfort level of most users. You think I want all my friends to see my activity on Huffington Post? Do I want everyone I’m friends with on Facebook, business Friends, personal friends, family, to see what I like on Buzzfeed? You think that’s appropriate? I don’t. It’s also not the deal we signed up for.

So what happens now? Well, it’s anybody’s guess, but judging from some of the conversations out there, we won’t have to wait long to find out. There are a lot of really smart people out there who see this coming and are already working on solutions to “the Facebook problem”. I’m confident they’re smarter than Zuckerberg, too. Here’s the best part, you don’t have to “train” a new audience what the idea of Facebook is now. All you have to do is be the one who comes up with the next, “It’s Facebook, but better”.