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Mommy bloggers suffer privacy conflicts on Facebook

Keeping family life private at a time when 500 million people are on Facebook is a challenge made tougher for young early adopters, who live life online but juggle the responsibilities of marriage and children.
This undated photo provided by Sherry Petersik shows Sherry Petersik, right, John Petersik and daughter Clara.
This undated photo provided by Sherry Petersik shows Sherry Petersik, right, John Petersik and daughter Clara.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

If she could turn back time, Sherry Petersik would have done things differently on Facebook.

The 28-year-old new mom, who writes a home decor blog called Young House Love, wanted only friends and family to access her profile on the 6-year-old social networking site. But one blog reader sought permission, followed by others, and at the risk of alienating them, Petersik and husband John lost their privacy.

Keeping family life private at a time when 500 million people are on Facebook is a challenge made tougher for young early adopters used to living life online but now also juggling the responsibilities of marriage and children.

Petersik, who lives in Richmond, Va., wanted only family to know when she was pregnant, and when daughter Clara was born in May. Their joy was tempered by concern that someone in their real-life circle would inadvertently spill the news on Facebook.

Losing privacy "has completely changed the way I use Facebook," Petersik said. "We now feel like we can't share a lot of personal things because we feel like we don't want the world at-large to read them."

She said they used to share travel plans or personal details because "these were our friends and family, they're not going to rob us or have an agenda," but now the couple is hyper-aware of keeping those details offline.

Yakini Etheridge, a 31-year-old clinical psychologist in New York, has whittled down what she reveals on her profile as more readers of her parenting blog, Prissy Mommy, find her on Facebook. She said that at the time she joined Facebook, she didn't realize she could be selective about how much personal information to share.

"As I learned about it, I was like 'Oh, I don't have to have people see my schools? OK, then they don't need to,'" she said.

Etheridge and husband Derek have a toddler named Chase and a new baby. On top of parenting, they're dealing with her blog, where she posts personal photos and anecdotes, and baby product reviews. Etheridge didn't realize Derek, a lawyer, was sensitive about photos until she posted what she thought was a cute family moment: Derek in an undershirt and boxers, reading to Chase on the couch.

"He called me from work and said, 'I can't believe you put a picture of me with my underwear online!'" Etheridge recalled. "I was like, 'You're just wearing shorts and a shirt.' And he's like, 'Those aren't shorts, those are my boxers.'"

She said she didn't immediately realize that the intimate family moment was available, for example, to one of Derek's clients. She deleted the photo.

Judy Aldridge, 47, and her 18-year-old daughter are heavy social-media users: Aldridge for her Atlantis Home blog and online accessories shop and Jane for her popular Sea of Shoes fashion blog.

"I think if you look at our blogs, it seems like we share a lot. But there's so much stuff that's off-limits," said Aldridge, who adds that she always looks over Jane's posts before they're published.

For the suburban Dallas family, relationships, their home address, day-to-day activities and their whereabouts are never mentioned on the blogs. And taking photos of some friends and family now comes with more care.

"Sometimes we'll be doing something and snapping a photo, and they'll say, 'I don't want to see myself on your blog. No way,'" Aldridge said.

In this Tuesday, July 27, 2010 picture, Sara Hinkle and her husband, Travis Hinkle, use laptop computers to blog from their apartment in Bloomington, Ind. Hinkle is a 24-yr-old expecting mom and writes about her experiences. Keeping family life private at a time when 500 million people are on Facebook is a challenge made tougher for young, tell-all early adopters of the 6-year-old social networking site who are now juggling the responsibilities of marriage and children. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)Darron Cummings / AP

Sara Hinkle, a 24-year-old expectant mom and freelance illustrator in Bloomington, Ind., said the seemingly simple act of taking pictures with friends and talking about her day now goes through self-editing.

"If they don't know about the blog, I don't ever put their names in it," she said.

But for Brittany Birnel, a 30-year-old mom of three in the Denver suburbs, personal blogs are so common in her social circle that she's not concerned when she shares photos of friends or their children. All of them have their own blogs and post photos and other personal information there so the permission is assumed, she said.

Birnel, who writes the parenting blog Tangled and True, posts photos of her two daughters, Lily and Stella, and son Finn. She said she recognized the risk of using their real names online, but skirting around identifying her children was a futile attempt at deterring anyone determined to get that information.

"In all honesty, if someone wants to find your kid and take your kid, they can find your kid and take your kid," she said.

Etheridge, who recently posted photos on her blog of her son on vacation in Jamaica, acknowledged there could be dangers online, but said she tries to thwart unwanted interest by leaving out revealing photos, such as ones of him in a diaper or in the bathtub.

"Obviously, there's a lot of pedophiles out there," she said. "If they want to get off on Chase, they can do so with his (swim) trunk pictures or his fully clothed pictures."

As with any proud parent, Petersik takes hundreds of photos of Clara but says that because of her blog and Facebook, she works extra hard to be mindful of her daughter's privacy.

"I think there's like 10 or 15 percent more of an effort because of this layer on top," Petersik said.

It may be extra work, but for Etheridge, Birnel and Hickle, who all started their online journals to keep family in the loop but found a broader audience, it's their personal lives that keeps readers coming back.

"I definitely think that the more candid and honest you are as a blogger, the more people connect with you," Etheridge said. "I do find that I get more comments on a post that I wrote from a heartfelt place."

For the Petersiks, who have let thousands of blog readers into their home, their bedroom, and even their bathroom, they still value their privacy.

"We feel like something has to be sacred. If you share everything with everyone, what is there left?" Sherry Petersik said. "If strangers knew about every aspect of our life than our friends and family, then there's something depressing about that."