Mark Zuckerberg had a nice Fourth of July. The Meta CEO spent the day in some kind of woodsy, sunny place, and wore a patriotic hat, and—according to a caption he posted on Instagram—talked to his children about how great America is. The accompanying photo shows him and his family:
There’s something both familiar and odd about this picture. Do you see it? Before hitting publish, he (or someone who works for him) placed smiley-face emojis over the faces of two of his daughters.
“Fascinated by Zuck’s choice to not have his kids’ faces on his social media platform,” Bloomberg Businessweek’s Reyhan Harmanci observed.
How much of ourselves we give to public social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram is a calculation we must constantly make. I am currently debating whether I want to post an album of wedding photos on my Insta “grid” or if I want to shelter those images from broader consumption. (Which is sort of silly; I am a nobody, with my profile on lock. But being purposeful here feels important!) Over the weekend, when Twitter seemed like it might truly, finally break (with the platform “rate limiting” how many tweets users could read), many people I know flocked to other platforms; others said they were simply quitting the entire exercise of dispensing quips onto a website where someone else could run advertisements against them. Users will even get to make that calculation another time this week when Meta introduces its own Twitter competitor, Threads.
It gets much more complicated when you have little ones in the picture: Some parents decide to keep photos of their kids on more intimate family photo-sharing platforms. Others, like Zuck, obscure their children’s faces on large platforms that are accessible anyway. Still more post with abandon, perhaps with a little nagging suspicion that this could come back to bite them. The parenting website Fatherly has explained that the risks of sharing kids’ photos span from “embarrassment to identity theft.”
I almost feel some schadenfreude imagining Zuckerberg also agonizing over being public or private on social media. After all, he got us into this mess!
But Zuckerberg in some ways faces a dilemma that’s different than that of the rest of us. He, and by extension his family, are under much, much higher scrutiny than most Americans are. Plenty of celebrities put themselves in—and profit from—the spotlight, while choosing to keep images of their kids under wraps. And on social media, they often have people doing the posting for them. The “@Zuck” Instagram feed is not really about him so much as it is a press platform for various Meta initiatives. Even the Fourth of July post reads like a building block for something.
But it’s also bizarrely half-hearted and low-tech. If Zuckerberg thinks shielding kids from Instagram is important … why doesn’t the platform have a feature that makes it easy to do so? (C’mon, we can post statuses on our DM inboxes.) Did he just decide the emoji thing was good enough?
And interestingly: Only two out of his three kids are obscured. The baby is in full view. Perhaps it was an issue of consent, and the kids who were old enough opted to not be pictured. As far as I can tell, this is the first time Zuckerberg has deployed the ol’ smiley-face trick, though he did crop their heads out of a post about 3D-printed dresses in April. He has previously posted photos of his two older daughters in profile. But he does that sparingly. A few years ago, an op-ed in the New York Post observed that Zuckerberg will go long stretches of time without posting his kids.
Maybe it’s that Zuckerberg is human like the rest of us, struggling with how much to use technology, and making choices that are also a little idiosyncratic. Maybe it’s also that even the person driving the train here does not know exactly where it is going. But he underlines a good point: If even he’s a little anxious about posting his kids’ photos on the platform he runs, shouldn’t everyone be?