Sunday, September 20, 2015

Do concerns about a child's online profile require action?

Seventy-one percent of U.S. teenagers 13- to 17-years-old use Facebook according to a 2015 study on "Teens, Social Media &Technology," conducted by the Pew Research Center. Twenty-four percent of teenagers say they are online "almost constantly."

But the fastest growing segment of Facebook users, according to Pew, is older adults. It's not unusual then for older adults to come across something on Facebook that might look a bit hinky as it relates to a young person they know.

A reader in the Midwest, E.K., writes that she used to work in a cubicle across from a guy with whom she would "occasionally banter a bit." While they were working together, the fellow's wife had a baby girl. Eventually, he became a stay-at-home dad and his wife became the "breadwinner" for the family.

That was 15 or so years ago. E.K. and her former colleague keep in touch as friends on Facebook.

Several months ago, the former colleague posted a photo of his daughter and wrote that she now wanted to be known by a new name. The new name was a shortened version of the name given her at birth, but wasn't gender specific.

"My friend has posted many photos of his daughter and family photos since," E.K. writes.

Recently, when E.K. was looking at her Facebook timeline, the "people you may know" section caught her attention. In the group was one of the photos of E.K.'s friend's daughter with the correct last name but with a different first name from her given name or the shortened name.

Because she recognized the photo, E.K. looked at the profile. Other than that the person is "male," there was nothing. No "friends" or any interests or location information.

E.K. is concerned that this may be a fake profile and that her friend's daughter may be being set up by other people to be "catfished" or otherwise embarrassed. (Catfishing someone is enticing them into a relationship after creating a fake online identity).

"She goes to an all-girls school and I know how kids can be at that age," writes E.K.

Now, she wonders whether she should contact her friend through a private message and tell him what she's seen and her concerns or just stay out of it.

What is the right thing to do?" she asks.

The daughter could very well have a Facebook page and set her settings to private so no one else could see her interests or list of friends. It could be that nothing terrible is going on here.

But if E.K. is concerned, then the right thing to do is to private message her friend and tell him exactly how she came across the profile. She can express her concern or simply tell him she was surprised to come across it and leave it at that.

Because the friend's child is a minor, E.K.'s concerns about her safety outweigh any hesitation she might have in alerting the friend. She wouldn't be outing the daughter since the father already seems aware of his daughter's preferences.

It may be that there is nothing nefarious about the page. But if E.K.'s alert can thwart off embarrassment or worse for the friend's daughter, then letting him know about it is the right thing to do. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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William Jacobson said...

No. Mind your own business. Your friend does not want some busybody acquaintance coming out of the woodwork years later to accuse their child of being transgender, Your concern is manufactured. How do you figure that what you have picked up on from a distance not even knowing the child in question would be something that her parent isn't aware of?!? Would you seek to sour the relationship with your former coworker by bringing it up? It would be different if they had brought it up with you. They haven't. Let your discovery lay.

William Jacobson esq.
Anaheim, CA

Anonymous said...

I agreed with Jeff until I read Bill's answer. The student is a teenager and hopefully realistic with the possible problems in computerized information. Maybe more than the rest of the adults. Privacy is a right no more. The parents probably know whatever or maybe shouldn't know. I go with Bill.

Just for reference, my uncle left town for Detroit around 1950 to get way from something (we know not what) and he lived OK thereafter. Couldn't have been too bad as nobody in the law went looking for him. Now everyone would know and he'd have some sort of problems. How things change.

Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.