Is It A Violation Of Your Child's Privacy To Write About His Porn Watching Habits?

Email a Friend

(see update/correction at the bottom of the article)

There is a tiny Twitter tempest going on right now regarding an article on The Atlantic today by freelancer Dave Eagle, about finding out his 9-year-old son was viewing pornography. The anger is over whether Eagle's son is too young to decide if he wanted his real name to be used, and how this article, which will likely live in perpetuity on the web, will affect him in the future.

Eagle's article is mostly about how to deal with a kid's natural curiosity leading him to pornography at such a young age. It doesn't come to any conclusions, doesn't shame his kid for looking at it, and is generally sympathetic. Eagle seems much more annoyed that his son wants to play Grand Theft Auto V than he does about the pornography. The child himself was pseudonymized, but critics said that since the article was written in the Eagle's real name, the kid's name could be located easily with just a little Googling.*

The conversation the article elicited on Twitter is so long, and comprised of so many tweets, it's best to just link to it here rather than embedding it, but it basically breaks down into two sides. Sociologist and Berkman Fellow Zeynep Tufekci thinks that Eagle's son is too young to consent to having his porn predelictions publicized in this manner, that this article will follow him, whether he likes it or not. This article doesn't allow him to discover and process his sexuality on his own time, instead, thrusting it into the public sphere for analysis. Writers like Melissa Gira Grant, Alex Howard, and Anil Dash also chimed in to express their concern about the child not being pseudonymized. to express concerns about a 9-year-old's ability to consent to being exposed in public like this. \

Meanwhile, journalist Quinn Norton said that she felt less concerned with this article that had been "written, checked with parents, editors, legal, etc," than she was with "random share-by-default culture that hasn’t considered what it’s doing, and outs child’s issues without realizing it." Essentially saying that she takes it on faith that The Atlantic and Dave Eagle had taken all of its critics concerns into consideration and felt comfortable with the child's comprehension of the magnitude of posting the article. theatlantic.com Deputy Editor Alexis Madrigal chimed in to confirm Quinn's opinion, saying "I think it's a complex situation in which we trusted a parent's intuition about what was right in his relationship with his child. We definitely had discussions with him around it, making sure he had considered what he was doing and that it was within the boundaries of the relationship with his son."

I'm of two minds on this one. It certainly wouldn't have marginalized the impact of the story had Eagle pseudonymized his son used a pseudonym to write the article. At the same time, I feel like this conversation has some implicit porn shaming in it that doesn't acknowledge pornography as something that should be destigmatized (which is, to be clear, hardly a settled matter, rather a personal opinion). I think that Eagle handled the subject as delicately as he could in his article, but I wonder if that's enough for a kid who is about to enter adolescence and will always deliver search results that include an article called "I didn't expect to find pornography in my 9-year-old's web history." Placing myself in the shoes of this kid, I think I would be annoyed about this article when I turned 15, and find it funny by the time I turn 18. And no sane employer would fault someone for finding an article his dad wrote about him when he was nine in his search results. It's kind of a matter of perspective. In the immortal works of the Reverend Dupas from Little Murders: "Nothing can hurt if we do not see it as hurtful. Nothing can destroy unless we see it as destructive. It is all part of life. Part of what we are."

UPDATE: Zeynep Tufekci, in response to this article, had this to say on twitter about my concerns of "porn-shaming":

* Correction: This article was oriignally written as though Dave Eagle had written about his son using his son's real name. He was, in fact, using a pseudonym for his son, though critics note that his son's real name can easily be found online with the information given in the article.