On Sharing Naked-Baby Pictures

The people you're connected to on social media are the guardians of your information, and vice versa.
Alexis Madrigal

I have an old friend who is remarkably unguarded and open about himself. He'll tell you just about anything, even things that would make lesser humans wither with embarrassment. 

We follow each other on Instagram. He has three kids under the age of four, so naturally, his feed consists mostly of their cute little faces. 

Recently, he posted a cute photo of his young ones splashing naked in a kiddie pool. It made me squirm. Not for the image itself—which was as innocent as could be—but because he had an unlocked account. There was a photograph of his naked kids that anybody could access on the Internet. He had, hypothetically, opened up his kids to a globe full of pedophiles. 

Or had he?

Posting things on social media sites is a lot like self-publishing a novel. While the Internet's technical reach is global and enormous, its normal reach is small and personal. 

After all, he's a doctor with no need for a social media presence, so he has perhaps a dozen followers on his nominally public account. What prospective pervert would somehow find this account? What were the odds that he would lose his privacy by obscurity?

This is powerfully strange. There was a 99.999 chance that less than 5 people would look at his photo and some nearly infinitesimal chance that a global community of sexual deviants might capture it. 

The good and bad news is that privacy is communal. We can protect each other. But only by working against the grain of most social network technologies, which encourage to like and share and retweet and reblog.

But the more any post gets shared or liked or commented upon, the more its obscurity is eroded; it's easier for other humans and the machines running Facebook and Google's algorithms to find them.

And while having lots of friends and followers is encouraged by the design of social tools, the more connections one has on social media, the greater the chances that a private post shared in public setting realizes its global potential. The people you're connected to on social media are the guardians of your information, and vice versa. Or, as our Megan Garber put it, "Your Privacy Is Your Friends' Privacy."

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in Technology

Just In