Last week, a fellow blogger‘s post got me thinking. The post itself was about a personal struggle with being entrusted to read other people’s writing, but what struck me is that her main example dealt with a request from a friend who had sent both the request and their writing in the same message.
We all have to give each other some benefit of the doubt when it comes to the internet. To me sending the request and the writing together is presuming you’ll get a yes, or a sly end-around to being turned down by making it that much more uncomfortable to do so… I will admit, that was my initial thought because I’m a bit of a cynic sometimes. But it could just be the awkwardness of a fledgling writer seeking out serious feedback for the first time.
So dole out the grains of salt, because not doing so might lead to online attacks and shows like this, but at the same time there are some things about consent that I think we should hold each other more accountable for.
For writers seeking out beta readers, always ask if someone is willing to read what you’ve written before sending it. Even if it seems like that just takes more time, and it’s a hassle sending and keeping track of all these emails. Especially if they’ve never read anything for you before! And even if they have, it’s only polite to ask, “Do you have time for this right now?” Because we have to respect the fact that we each have our own lives to deal with, too.
Another (somewhat unrelated) thing that pings my radar a lot is baby pictures on Facebook. And anywhere, really, but that’s where I see it most often, especially with grandparents and new parents eager to show off their new arrivals. It’s cute and sweet and I’m happy for you — but that picture is on the internet forever. That infant or toddler or cute little kid is going to grow up and realize that they had an online presence long before they even knew what that was or had any control over it. Is that scary? That seems a little scary to me, and I say that as a card carrying millennial.
And it’s not just kids. I haven’t been tagged in a photo in a while so I don’t know if Facebook has changed the way this works, but it at least used to be that if someone tagged you it gave you the option of whether or not to make that tag visible to anyone else and include it in your account’s collection of photos. But even if you declined the tag, that picture of you was still there, online, for anyone inside the poster’s privacy filters to see. What if you were uncomfortable with that?
With photos as with beta requests, I personally feel that it’s only polite to ask first, then act with consent. With adults, let them know in advance if you’re going to post a specific collection of photos and give them an opportunity to say whether or not they’re comfortable with that. (Like, if it’s something they might not want their boss to see, they might at least want to ask about your privacy filters.) With kids, I don’t know. I’m not sure what age they’d start being able to really understand and give consent.
This has been a rant. But consent is important to think about, especially as the concept of an online life becomes more “normal” to incoming generations. How transparent do we really want to be online? To what extent do we inadvertently make that choice for other people? What’s the social protocol here? That’s especially hard to nail down given the global nature of the internet, but so necessary for every individual on it.