|Topless Tuesday, Rosie the Riveter Style|
Tumblr users make heavy use of "reblog", which basically takes something someone else has posted, and puts it on their own page. People would reblog favorite pictures, or little cartoons or whatever.
As I looked at tumblr, and was thinking "This isn't something I'd ever use. I prefer blogspot.", it occurred to me that almost all the users I had run into were young... like high school age. Ut oh!
Nervous, I started going back to some of the images I had saved to my computer. Sure enough. I had been unwittingly downloading kiddy porn! There were a few fully topless images by 16 and 17 year olds, and even one teasing, but not illegal one, that was by a 15 year old! Eep! I started deleting images. (Note for the nervous, I researched "Rosie" above - she's in her 20s, and a college graduate, and our holiday girl is 21).
So, as I was looking at the sites, trying to ascertain the age of these "models", I started learning more about the culture of tumblr, and it troubled me. At least among the pages I visited, most were 15-25 year olds. The vast majority were 17 or 18. Most were in high school or the first year of college. Most used the "reblog" function 90 percent of the time on their own pages, just parroting what their peers had put on their pages. But most disturbing, was the behavior regarding "followers". Like any other social network, you can have Friends (or followers in tumblr). It seemed pretty obvious that everyone knew that the best way for a girl to get followers, was to put up a "Topless Tuesday" post. I saw comments like "Holy crap, one Topless Tuesday and I got 83 followers in an hour! I only got about 3 per day before that!" I also saw an angsty comment from another girl, who tagged her post as "Topless Tuesday", but wrote a (right thinking) blog that any follower that she got solely because she flashed her boobs on the internet was NOT a follower she wanted.
There also seemed to be a tradition of unvarnished openness. Tumblr provides an "ask" feature to send a page owner a message. Most users turn this into an "Ask me anything" link, to which they frequently respond publicly, and truthfully to questions with details about sexual history, drugs, alcohol or family matters.
As I thought about teenagers, their need to fit in and to be socially accepted, tumbler seems a dangerous trap. The "Reblogging" thing is just so typical of a teen behavior. They just parrot the contributions of others - not unlike dressing the same, or acting the same. Posting the same stuff that their friends post makes them feel included. The notion of followers makes it a simple matter for a user to tell if they're "popular" or not. To feel more popular, one need only accumulate more followers. The ease of posting images makes online "sexting" a trivial exercise. The culture of open sharing of intimate details creates a false sense of closeness and trust. The messaging features even allow for peer pressure. There were even numerous posts where girls put something up with captions like "All right, everybody, stop bugging me! Here's my Topless Tuesday!"
My wife and I have chosen not to have children, but as a middle aged guy with a non-trivial paternal instinct, I was deeply troubled by what I found. If I had a daughter, I would want her to be comfortable with her body, knowledgeable about sex, and comfortable enough with us, her parents, to ask questions. I would want my daughter to lay claim to her own sexual identity, and not fall victim to misogynist cultural pressures. It horrifies me to think that girls are being forced by peer pressure to expose themselves on the internet. It's tantamount to sexual abuse, and it breaks my heart.
I try to keep it in perspective. People my age think nothing of reflecting about smoking grass in their youth. It was a rite of passage. Perhaps in 20 years, kids will talk about, or even share, pictures they flashed on the internet when they were young.. Maybe it'll be so commonplace that no one will care. Still, I think we call them "minors" for a reason. They're not old enough to make these decisions yet. I think they need a little help, and parents who care enough to watch out for them. So, parents out there... Please know what your kids are doing online. Buy the expensive routers that lets you snoop. "Trust with verification" is a reasonable strategy, in my mind. Please, do the right thing. Love your children. Watch your children.