The Price of Going Viral

It all started with a cute picture posted on Reddit. You probably saw it somewhere under a different name, but was originally titled “My wife took our 5 month old son to get his first passport photos taken — NAILED IT!” The simple picture (above, sans 8BD grafitti) was of a passport photo outtake where junior didn’t manage well with the flash. The picture was funny, people upvoted it. It hit the front page of Reddit. But it didn’t stop there.

In this new digital age, it’s easy to “go with the flow.” If you’re a dad and into social media, the flow is pretty simple: share pics of your kid on social media platforms, have a couple laughs at funny pictures of your family, and soak in the likes/upvotes. But what if it didn’t stop there? What if a couple of laughs turned into you having to close your Reddit, YouTube and Twitter accounts and rename yourself on Facebook?

One dad recently found out that 15 minutes of fame can lead to a creepy mix of local news affiliates hunting down friends and an unexpected army of admirers and detractors to your parenting style.

The father of the 5-month old boy in the passport outtake photo (who has asked to only be referred to as “Joel”) is a normal Canadian father, living in Vancouver, British Columbia. He’s a digital dad who used to share pictures of his family online, just like any other dad within a mouse’s reach.

But Joel recently told 8BitDad that he’s going to be “more careful from here on out, for sure. I’ve changed my Facebook name, and might change it back eventually down the road…but for now I’m on defense.”

At first, the Reddit effect was humorous. He submitted his photo before going to bed, and when he woke up, there were funny Photoshops to share with family and friends. But then, a Daily Mail article appeared that made Joel uneasy. “Essentially The Daily Mail went back through my Twitter and found a cuter photo of [my son] and blew my cover on how I’m moving the family to South America,” Joel told 8BitDad. “I had a lot of hurt friends, upset that this was how they were to find out.”

Joel had noted that in his original Reddit post, some commenters had attacked him for getting a passport for such a young child, so Joel had explained the move. The Daily Mail found that follow-up comment and aired-out Joel’s surprise move. He’s since made peace with all parties, but he and his wife felt awful – especially after Joel’s wife’s best friend (who was going to be told in person that week) had found out about the move on the internet.

But this wasn’t the end for Joel’s privacy. As he explained:

Next was an email in my private inbox (the one I only give out to friends). It was from ABC for Good Morning America. At this point I was pretty creeped out, so my strategy was to call them back, and give an interview…only on the condition that they keep my last name private, and my son’s name private. They honoured that, for which I owe them some respect. But at the end I asked her how she found me. Apparently she found me through my YouTube account which was just my first initial and last name (I set that up in like 2005, when I wasn’t actually posting videos). She saw ONE video that I put up of my kid talking to my parents on Skype, and guessed at my email address by putting that username in front of @gmail. After that interview, I went back and nuked my YouTube page, deleting all of my comments and videos.

NBC was next. They hunted down Joel’s employer and contacted him there at the office. Joel said he planned on using the same tactic as ABC: be polite and courteous and ask for discretion in return. They honored the request, but not without a fight. “I even got a call back from the editor asking if they could just use my last initial,” said Joel. “I said no, and I would revoke permission to use the photo if they did so. He heard me out.” Ultimately, NBC obliged.

The Price of Going Viral

A picture of Joel’s son released for 8BitDad

Joel figured that NBC did some backtracking through YouTube, Reddit and even the ABC article. Joel deleted his account on Reddit.

But then the photo made it to the Vancouver local TV and internet news. “What creeped me out was how in one of the articles they openly asked for tips on my whereabouts and on how someone could get in touch with me,” said Joel. It reminded him that many of his friends talked about knowing him on Facebook. “We’d had such a long, weird day and some of the downright nasty comments we were reading were starting to get to my wife. I was done doing interviews for the day. I begged my friends on Facebook to not give out my info and to respect that we wanted to be left alone,” Joel recounted.

That’s when Joel renamed himself on Facebook. Strangely, after all of this tiring runaround, this is when Joel agreed to speak with 8BitDad, based on the idea of doing an article about the cautions of posting pictures of your children online.

Joel wants other fathers to think twice before sharing that cute or funny pic of their kid online – because it may, as it did in his case, lead to having to close down other accounts to keep out prying eyes. Joel says that he’s definitely going to be more careful about posting pictures of his own child in the future, but his own lesson might not have fully sunk in yet. “In retrospect, I would’ve still posted the photo, but would’ve done it with a throwaway…or else answer no questions in the aftermath,” Joel mused.

“I’m at least happy that it came through that I really do love my son, and care about his privacy,” Joel concluded. “At least it’s nice to have some positive coverage of dads in the media out there.”