It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room.
You’ve probably noticed by now that I claim to be a mother of four, but somehow mysteriously can’t remember their names, or show you any clear photos of them. I know, I know. It seems pretty sus‘.
There are some very good reasons for this. But first, let’s talk about a Nazi.
Earlier this year, the last known Nazi guard was brought to trial for his role in the murder of over 5,000 people held in the Stutthof concentration camp. What is notable about this man, known as Bruno D., is how he was permitted to cover his face when in the courtroom, and media showing his trial blurred his face during the proceedings. I remember seeing a lot of comments from angry and confused Americans, not understanding why a man charged with such a heinous crime was allowed the dignity of anonymity after what he had done.
In order to understand, it’s important to know the history of the law in Germany. After the Second World War, Germany was divided. The allied powers set to the task of appropriating the system of government that would replace the fallen Third Reich. Instead of forming a constitution that would preclude the divided East Germany, the drafters of the Frankfurt Documents decided instead to call it the Basic Law, or Grundgesetz.
The atrocities that brought about this event weighed heavily on the German people, and as a result was reflected in the first article of the Grundgesetz.
“Human dignity shall be inviolable.” Or in other words, no law can be formed that would impede on anyone’s basic right to their dignity and humanity. Such a powerful sentiment is sewn into the culture of modern day Germany, where the principle of safeguarding others’ rights is a prominent feature.
Many of the laws that seem strange or irregular to outsiders find their roots in this law. The parts we can talk about today have to do with privacy.
If you’ve spent any amount of time trying to establish a life in Germany, you will be familiar with the concept of Datenschutz, or data protection. Everywhere you go to open an account, see the doctor, buy a vehicle, you will certainly be asked to sign a Datenschutz Eklärung to acknowledge that the business will protect your personal information. Breaking this confidentiality is also no joke. Fines can be from thousands to millions of euros depending on the size of the company and the extent of the data breach.
Protecting personal information is very important to most Germans, and it carries over to many other aspects of everyday life beyond financial transactions. One of those ways is how much information gets shared about children.
Living in the age of social media, it seems pretty natural for us to share even the most intimate parts of our lives with others online. Our family milestones, funny anecdotes, and personal tragedies are often readily available to even our most casual of acquaintances. And in America at least, even though the experts seem to agree, it doesn’t seem like we as a society have come to a consensus about how our kids should fit into this. We certainly don’t have strict laws that regulate how parents must respect their children’s right to privacy.
Germany has in this respect kept up pretty well with regulating children’s rights to protect their identity. Laws regarding when it’s acceptable to take pictures of others and share them err heavily on the side of the consent of a picture’s subjects. Though children are often not in a position to advocate for themselves, if sharing a picture of them in a helpless position could endanger them, it’s possible that the Jugendamt may step in on behalf of that child. What this often means, however, is that parents are very unlikely to share pictures of their children playing with their friends.
So how do Germans use social media to share their family life while still protecting their children’s right to privacy? To begin with, most don’t share a lot of personal details right out of the gate. The wider their social media audience, the less details they are likely to share. WhatsApp is a very popular messaging service here, and within those chat groups parents are much more open about comings and goings, but even when sharing pictures will often take some precautions.
One of the more popular solutions is to share pictures while obscuring the face. It works in instances where you’d like to share a moment but need to protect the identity of those being photographed.
So that brings us to my family.
I’d like to say that in any event I would be so fastidious, but the truth is that being exposed to the way German culture views privacy has had an influence on me. Even in day-to-day interactions, I find myself being a more private person than I used to be. Just the other day I had a phone conversation with a stranger trying to win my business. She told me about her family and why they chose to move to their current place. As a former cashier in the US, I had a lot of experience listening to people tell me all kinds of personal stories. Yet listening to this woman felt strange and, I admit, slightly uncomfortable. So naturally when it comes to my kids, I’ve shared less and less about them over time.
*Humble Brag Alert* I’m pretty proud to say that my kids are savvy. The two older ones are especially aware of how complicated having an online presence can be. After careful discussion, we agreed that we wouldn’t share pictures or stories of any of the kids without their express prior permission. And as I began this blog, I promised them I would hold to that. I may decide to give them monikers in the future. But you can be sure that whatever I share about them here, I share with their full knowledge and permission.
As it should be.
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