An 18-year-old Austrian woman is suing her parents for continually posting embarrassing childhood photos of her on Facebook without her consent. Since 2009, she alleges, they have willfully humiliated her by constantly posting intimate images from her childhood—about 500 to date. Among them are potty training photos and pictures of her having her diapers changed.
The abused daughter told reporters, “They knew no shame and no limit – and didn’t care whether it was a picture of me sitting on the toilet or lying naked in my cot – every stage was photographed and then made public.” Her parents have 700 Facebook friends.
The technical term for them is “cruel and merciless assholes.”
They have refused to delete the photos, with her father arguing that since he took the photos he has the right to publish them to the world.
Oh, what does the law have to do with this? If the parents had any decency, and sense of fairness, respect and caring, the law wouldn’t have to be involved in any way. Their daughter feels humiliated, as most of us would be, by having such photos published. There is no ethical principle under which publishing photographs (or videos) of anyone that were taken without consent when the subject objects or one knows or should know that he or should would object can be justified. This controversy, if ethical parents were involved, would be settled with a simple exchange:
Her: “Please don’t put anymore of those photos on Facebook, and take down the ones that are up now. They are embarrassing.”
How hard is that? I know it’s hard for parents to resist posting photos of their adorable infants and toddlers while they are too young to protest, but the protest should be presumed. The Golden Rule rules, and I go further: this is an absolute. Children should not have their lifetime privacy scarred by parents selfishly indulging themselves by treating their children like pets. Children should be able to trust their parents to respect their sensibilities and vulnerabilities, and not to sacrifice them for cheap Facebook “likes.” Obviously, many of them can’t.
This is an extreme case, where the embarrassing childhood photos are being posted when the child is not only all grown up, but has registered a legitimate protest. Under such cruel circumstances, the Ethics Alarms mantra that when ethics fails, the law steps in is apt. I don’t know how Austrian law works, or whether the daughter will win; I don’t know if a similar suit would have a chance in the U.S. I am, however, thrilled that the daughter sued, if only to publicize the problem. Our society has to learn that it is wrong to treat children this way, when they are 18 or when they are two. Ethical parents should keep those intimate, nude, cute, embarrassing photos to themselves, and off the net, at least until their children are old enough to give informed and willing consent.