Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Paley Center in New York, Oct. 25, 2019.

Editor’s Note: Priya C. Kumar, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of social and organizational informatics at Pennsylvania State University, where she studies how we think, talk and learn about data privacy, especially in relation to children. The views expressed here are solely the author’s own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

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Sandwiched between a Jiu-Jitsu video and the Threads announcement, Mark Zuckerberg’s Instagram profile recently featured a casual Independence Day snapshot of him and his family. Well, most of it — emojis obscure the faces of his 5- and 7-year-old daughters. This prompted social media comments accusing Zuckerberg of hypocrisy, given the constant outcry over his company Meta’s privacy practices.

Priya Kumar

Yes, it is deeply ironic that Zuckerberg, whose platforms fine-tuned a business model that earns him enormous revenues by extracting our data, wants to limit where some of his data goes. But two things are important to note here: This decision is more about his children than him, and covering their faces with emojis is more about reducing their visibility to audiences than about preventing platforms from extracting their data.

While platforms are certainly not off the hook, Zuckerberg’s post is a reminder that, on top of all the feeding, sheltering and role modeling that goes into childrearing, parents now bear the added responsibility of managing their young children’s digital identities. Of course, Zuckerberg’s wealth means that he and his wife can afford all kinds of help raising their children. But even they must still take steps to steward their children’s privacy, that is, to figure out what and how they feel comfortable posting about their children online. (Meta declined to comment about Zuckerberg’s posting decisions.)

While celebrity parents do face acute privacy and security threats (think invasive paparazzi or kidnapping risks), the centrality of digital interactions in our everyday lives means that all parents must grapple with questions of how the information they create and share might affect their children. And unfortunately, there aren’t any one-size-fits-all answers. There’s also no guarantee of avoiding tension down the line; even the most thoughtful parent might do something their child one day finds embarrassing, or worse. As the first generation of post-Facebook children grow up, some young people are sharing quite emotional responses to their parents’ online postings.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg with his family on July 4 2023.

For their part, parents have long been considering how to navigate their desire to express themselves and bond with others via social media, while also honoring their children’s privacy. A decade ago, a research team and I interviewed more than 100 parents about their social media use. We found that parents took various steps to address their privacy concerns related to posting about their children. These included communicating their posting preferences to family and friends, and creating separate profiles for child-related content, which often contained fewer friends so the content was visible to a smaller audience.

Swiss researcher Ulla Autenrieth has identified privacy-protective tactics specifically for photos, some of which Zuckerberg has used: putting emojis over children’s faces; showing children from behind or in profile; including only parts of children, like their hands or feet, in images; depicting children at a distance; and having children wear sunglasses, costumes or masks that disguise their appearance.

As summer vacation season serves up more photo-posting opportunities, here’s my advice to parents: Turn posting into a collaborative activity by involving your kids in the process. Before each post you want to make, ask how they feel and truly listen to them. If they’re happy about posting, great. But if they’d rather not have something posted, don’t post it. If sharing the image is important to you, work together to find a solution. Maybe they’d prefer one of the privacy-preserving techniques mentioned above, or perhaps you can message the photo to a few people rather than post it on social media.

While babies obviously can’t meaningfully contribute to these conversations, by ages 4 to 6, children are developing a sense of their own individuality and can start to engage with the idea of your posting. By bringing children into the process and, importantly, honoring their preferences, you’re signaling that they have agency in creating their digital footprint and that their perspective matters. Actively deliberating what to post on your account also gives children a model to follow when they’re deciding what to post on their own accounts.

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More broadly, treating posting as a collaborative process can make privacy stewardship feel less fraught. Discussions about parents’ social media posting often frame the issue as one of a parent’s right to post versus a child’s right to privacy, giving the whole topic an antagonistic flavor. Yet posting decisions shouldn’t focus on whose right trumps whose, but rather on what’s best for the parent-child relationship. That way, if children ever feel tension about parental posting down the line, they’ll hopefully feel comfortable sharing their concerns with parents directly. And, since teenagers report ambivalence about the role of social media in their lives, having a foundation of openness may make it easier for children to seek support or advice from parents about other technology-related issues they face.

While privacy stewardship is something each family needs to navigate, let’s not forget the reason why these privacy concerns exist in the first place. The platforms Zuckerberg owns — Facebook and Instagram, in particular — have not only replaced the baby book, but they’ve also absorbed the family reunion, the newspaper, the marketplace and the town square. That has concentrated a lot of our information and our attention in one place, all for the purpose of making him wealthy (albeit under the rosy glow of closeness and community).

So don’t call out Zuckerberg the dad for looking out for his children’s privacy. But definitely call out Zuckerberg the corporate titan for continuing to profit off our data. That’s the real privacy problem of social media, and it affects children and adults alike.