Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

An un-erasable Facebook faux pas could cost today's children a job interview or two in the future, but there are also much more frightening outcomes
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The Independent Online

Christmas is for the children, but the annual school nativity play? That's for the parents. It's a source of misty eyes, special memories and – depending on the child protection policies in place at your offspring's school – photos to be treasured for ever.

South Wales was the scene for this year's variation on the traditional festive row: should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays? Four-year-old Emmi-Rai had secured the plum role of innkeeper in the Ynysboeth Primary School nativity, but when her proud mum, Lisa Evans, posted a video to Facebook, the school asked her to remove it. A spokesman for the local council later defended this decision as a necessary for the safety of at-risk children, but, to Ms Evans and lots of parents like her, that just sounds like officious nonsense. "It is absolutely outrageous and has been blown out of all proportion," she told the local paper, in a story illustrated with more cute pictures of her daughter. "As far as I am concerned, my parental rights have been taken away."

The rights of the parent vs the rights of the school – maybe that was the issue when the same row came up at a Yorkshire primary school back in 1999, or even in 2010 when the head of a school in Hertfordshire issued a blanket ban on photos, but not in 2014. Now it's no longer the school violating parental rights that should cause concern, but parents who unwittingly violate the rights of their own child.

The vast majority of mums and dads who are on social media use it to share stories and images of their children. The figure is as high as 97 per cent, according to one US survey, although as much is obvious from the anecdotal evidence of our own feeds. We all love cute baby pictures; it seems harmless and it helps friends and family to stay bonded when they might otherwise be separated by long distances and busy schedules.

This comes at a cost, of course. Most adults are aware of that and have already made their choice, a choice based on limited options and an ever-changing Facebook privacy policy, but a choice nonetheless. When parents post about children, they're depriving them of the right to make their own choice as adults, by which time the stakes may be dramatically higher than they are now.

In the best-case scenario, the next generation will be subjected to annoyingly effective advertising, and may lose out on a job interview or two thanks to an un-erasable Facebook faux pas, but there are also much more frightening outcomes. Experts predict that Google Glass and facial recognition technology will soon converge to create a total surveillance society in which massive dossiers of personal information could be accessed in real time by complete strangers. And the traitors who compiled the dossier on you, your looks, your likes and everything else? Why, it was your beloved parents, of course.

Lost the plot

These days, every story must have a beginning, a middle and a Twitter furore, as proved by the unsatisfied reactions to the finales of three popular series last week, The Missing on BBC1, The Fall on BBC2 and Serial. Consciously or not, many people turn to fiction in search of the meaningful structure that real life denies us, so when a story they have invested time in ends without offering that satisfaction, the disappointment can be keen.

But those of us who are already wise to the wiles of mystery writers know there is more than one kind of ambiguous ending. Some series, it is true, confront us with a cliffhanger, not for artistic reasons, but transparently because the writer would like another series, please Mr BBC Commissioner. This is the category into which The Fall fell with it's not-quite-dead-yet villain.

Others, such as The Missing, realistically conclude that no real conclusions are possible, and in doing so teach us a lesson worth heeding. Or try to, anyway.

In The Missing, Inspector Baptiste wisely told Tony: "If you can't live with your doubts, they will destroy you." His warning came too late for the many destroyed Serial fans who expressed outrage that the real-world story of Adnan Syed did not have the satisfying conclusion they felt was their due. These people have been mollycoddled by happy endings for too long.

Lovelorn leaders of the world

Is sad singleton Vladimir Putin the Jennifer Aniston of European politics? Since splitting with his wife, Lyudmila (VladMila called it a day in June 2013), the unlucky-in-love leader has healed his heart by focusing on his passions – mainly shirtless horseriding, waging war in Ukraine and predicting the recovery of the rouble. At his annual press conference on Thursday, however, Vlad finally opened up about his heartache. "Everything is fine – do not worry," he reassured the concerned journalist.

Putin is not the only statesman to have been taken off guard by a sudden interest in his love life. The irrelevant yet ubiquitous former PM Tony Blair – the Kerry Katona of European politics? – probably hoped the interview in The Economist would focus on his vision for peace in the Middle East and various charitable endeavours. Alas, all anyone really wants to know is this: was he schtupping Mrs Murdoch or what?

Nicely nasty Nick

Lord Sugar's right-hand man, Nick Hewer, has been deflating egos on The Apprentice since 2004, which must be like facing down a hurricane of hot air for 10 years. No wonder he needs a rest. But even though the current series of The Apprentice will be Hewer's last, his withering wit lives on in boardrooms and staff meetings the nation over. Every time lips are pursed together shrewdly or a single eyebrow is raised in derision, we will think of him. And if any colleague attempts to play down their previous enthusiasm for a terrible idea, they'll be put right with this immortal line from series five: "You were all over it like a tramp on chips."

Money no object

Kanye West has reportedly spent $74,000 on Christmas gifts for his 18-month-old daughter, North, buying her a diamond tiara ($62,000) and a child-sized black SUV, modelled after daddy's own ($12,000). We may question his taste, but not his thrift; as a percentage of West's $30m annual income, this is actually no more extravagant than the £100 per child spent by the average British parent.

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