If Facebook Can’t Be Trusted, Parents Should Stock Up on Photo Albums

It might feel antiquated and twee, but it's good to know where your data is.

For the last seven years, I’ve used Facebook to document my sons’ childhoods. Sure, I’ve printed off the odd baby picture here or there, but the bulk of my children’s lives — first steps to first lost tooth — has been backed up on servers in Iceland and California and I don’t know where else. And it’s now more apparent than ever before that this represents a risk — not because Facebook is going under, but because it’s clearing going about its business without the best interests of its users at heart.

That’s why I’m making a scrapbook. And, no, I’m not really the scrapbooking type. It’s just the right thing to do right now.

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As Facebook has come under increased scrutiny for failing to protect user data, I’ve heard the oft-repeated call to “delete Facebook.” You know who doesn’t do that? Parents. Their updates just keep coming. There are pregnancies being tracked, kids napping in weird places, children making wry observations about life. The parenting posts in my feed have not slowed.

And, for the record, I’m not talking about complacent people. Many of the people I see posting about their kids are outspoken, political, and concerned about data security. A handful work in the tech industry and are cynical about Silicon Valley’s culture and motivations. But none of this matters because Facebook has the stuff we need. Facebook has us by our hearts.

It’s understandable how we got here. The fact that Facebook acts as both the dinner party and the wallet full of family pictures I pass around to friends is the core appeal of the platform. And it’s amazing. It’s worth taking a second, even as the company meets with righteous rage, to appreciate that what Facebook built is remarkable. The social behemoth is both the amplifier of memory and its keeper. That’s amazing. It’s also deeply troubling.

The data for memories and social wellbeing transaction is the Facebook product. This has become painfully clear as more information has surfaced on the Cambridge Analytica scandal and, more generally, on how Facebook functions as an advertising business. I rent my eyes out in return for a place to share pictures and find cool articles (like this one). By participating in that ecosystem, I’m not just sacrificing a portion of my privacy. I’m giving up on IRL documentation in favor of acting as a Facebook archivist. If I trusted Facebook implicitly, that would make perfect sense. It is, after all, a pretty good product. But who trusts Facebook implicitly anymore? No one.

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I want my kids to stumble on their baby pictures. I want them to have happy memories of their childhoods that they can share. I am, as it stands, counting on Mark Zuckerberg to make that happen. So, whatever red hot takes I have on how social media has warped politics or society, I’m still voting with my feet. I’m still saying that I stand behind Big Zuck.

Facebook has us by our hearts.

Yes, you might say, but aren’t those photographs saved on your phone, or on your computer? What about the cloud? Sure. Yes. Somewhere. But I know that’s not enough. For reasons we don’t need to go into, I chronicled much of my twenties on MySpace. Then MySpace was gone. Then my twenties were gone. That sucked but also likely saves me daily embarrassment. It’s different with pictures of my boys. I will never look back on those with regret.

Is Facebook going anywhere? Probably not anytime soon. But things change fast in the digital world. So it has become increasingly important for parents everywhere not just to backup data (thumb drives will someday be obsolete too) but to make hard copies. In fact, I would argue that every parent has a moral obligation to make their memories real. To take a curatorial eye and turn them into something solid. Print them out. Put them in a nightstand. Keep them.

It’s the only way any of us can be really sure our kids will have a past to come back too when we’ve passed and they need comfort.

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