Obama bans daughters from Facebook — and he's right

Whenever the right-leaning media writes or opines about US President Barack Obama, it is with a tinge of, "Oh, look what he's done NOW".

The media, obsessed with social media, and politics, got the perfect winter "silly season" story with news that Obama has banned his daughters from using Facebook.

According to the Daily Mail online:
"His admission seems somewhat ironic, given that he made full use of Facebook and other websites to encourage the young to vote for him in the presidential election — and to raise millions of dollars for his campaign."

US President Barack Obama and his daughters Sasha (l) and Malia. The media got the perfect winter "silly season" story with news that Obama has banned his daughters from using Facebook. Reuters

Leave aside the judgemental inclination of both the web and the right-wing press for whom nothing is ever good enough. Why is the alleged "freedom" afforded by the internet so fascist when it comes to social media?

Are there rules about how one must use Facebook? Must you accept all friend requests and, if you're public about certain things, you have to be public about everything?

One rule isn't actually Obama's. Facebook requires people to be aged 13 before they sign up, so daughter Sasha is just 10, while Malia is 13.

He's said both will have to wait four years before they sign up: "Why would we want to have a whole bunch of people who we don’t know knowing our business? That doesn’t make much sense."

Yet Obama puts his Christmas family photo on his Facebook page, wail the commentators.

Except it isn't really his page.

Equating a social media profile for the most powerful man in the world to that of the average individual in India or Brazil or even the US is absurd. And his children are not ordinary children: anything they posted could be hacked, exposed to the prying eyes of the globe and used against them and their father.

That line, between public and private, is a constant source of confusion in social media, but particularly when the "elite", as Kapil Sibal might like to call them, likes to dictate how we use it.

I have previously seriously upset people by declining friend requests on Facebook. Despite some orders from certain quarters of the journalism profession that we should use Facebook to connect with readers, I still prefer to limit mine to the 200 or so family, friends and colleagues who I have met in person, know and trust.

I will never be some grand celebrity or columnist like Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, with more than a million followers online.

He uses Facebook as a professional tool, as Obama did to get elected in 2008, and to great effect. His personal life is not on Facebook. There are elements of his life, but he has packaged some of his private thoughts — ie what the rest of us put online — off into a box away from those prying digital eyes.

And the eyes are going to examine us in ever greater depth within days. Facebook's "timeline", long promised, is finally available to everyone.

Your birthdate is no longer just a number — it is put within a context of your life, with key moments as well as every post and comment you've ever made, laid wide open. Gone are the days of clicking "older posts" until you find something. This is dipping in and out of a person's life, like some grand puddle you're hovering over as an all seeing deity.

You get seven days once activating the timeline to clean things up before it is visible to your selected friends or the public. . . seven days to wade through years of your past thoughts and moments.

For public figures, that might be revealing or even dangerous, suddenly open to all those eyes. So too for their children, whose family portraits and ups and downs that define life are made visible through the parents.

The same is true for the rest of us — it's just that most will never know the scrutiny of the media or mass public. But the caution should still be there. Are our children ready to have their own accounts in social media? Are we exposing them by proxy through our own? And what rules would we like to set out for ourselves for what we show the world, and what we keep in those private boxes.

Be thankful you're not the president of the United States having to make those decisions in public. But be prepared to make your own choices within seven days.