In 2006, when Facebook first hit the mainstream, it was a novelty for people to unwittingly share pictures and personal information online. I can remember how excited I was to amass large groups of ‘friends’ and share whole albums detailing my everyday life. Over the last few years, the Facebook landscape has changed and then changed again. Recently people have begun to ask serious questions in regards to online safety and the consequences of ‘sharing’ too much. Specifically, posting pictures and information online has raised new questions about what is safe and proper conduct in regards to our children. Over the years I have gone from posting whole albums to posting an occasion ‘distant’ photo of my children. There is no doubt we are obsessed with posting pictures and updates about our children but is it safe, or even ethical to publish something about someone who can’t give their consent — or can they?
Who is Posting Pictures of Their Children Online?
Most parents have posted, or thought about posting, something about their kids on Facebook or other social media outlets at some point in their life. In a 2011 study, 66% of generation X parents said they post pictures of their children online while over 50% said they share in their children’s accomplishments. A more recent US study found that 63% of moms use Facebook; of these, 97% said they post pictures of their child; 89% post status updates about them, and 46% post videos.
There are two things to be careful about when posting information about our children online. The first is the amount of information that you give away, such as: date of birth, place of birth, the child’s full name, or geographical location. The second issue is about consent. What type of information would your children want to see about themselves online (2)?
Is it Safe?
Some parents have safety and privacy concerns when it comes to their children. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to secure online anonymity. Passwords and photos are easily hacked, and the more information that’s available, the easier it is to trace it back to the person (1). As a parent, it’s hard not to question what will happen to the photos and information posted about my children online. I often worry about posting too much information and setting up my child for predators and/or identity theft.
Additionally, there have been many ‘privacy controversies’ regarding social media sites such as Facebook over the years. There have been many questions raised about ownership of photographs and who can share the pictures you post. It hasn’t helped that Facebook keeps changing its privacy policies to confuse the ‘user’ into sharing more than anticipated.
In response to the uncertainty, many parents are now opting to not post any pictures online. While other parents find a happy medium, by posting pictures or stories about their young children without using their real name and/or not tagging them in pictures.
Three Things to Remember When Sharing Information About Your Children Online (3):
- Don’t Share Too Much – Avoid telling people where you are going that day, date of birth, place of birth, the child’s full name, or geographical location, etc. Be as vague as possible – your real friends will know the details anyway.
- Use the Privacy Controls – Facebook and other social media sites have privacy features that can control who your information is shared with. Privacy controls are subject to change without notice so make sure they are up-to-date. Only share pictures and information with people you trust.
- Your Data is Being Shared Whether you Like it or Not – Remember a friend could unknowingly allow your information to be shared with a third party without your knowing. It is better to keep your posts vague and nondescript.
Should the Child Have a Say in What is Posted About Them Online?
The trend of posting information about our young children on social media sites raises an important issue: don’t children deserve some privacy? Some parents feel strongly that they should not post images of their child before they are old enough to make decisions for themselves. Interestingly, before researching for this blog I (accidentally) asked for my six-year-old daughter’s permission before posting her picture. I was surprised to find out she really does have strong opinions about what she would like ‘shared’ online.
Another question that arises: could these pictures someday come back to bite our children? This is a little far-fetched but it is possible that the embarrassing pictures you post of your children could resurface one day…like when they run for office. Sometimes it is hard to completely understand what the future is capable of and therefore always better to err on the side of caution.
Even if the Information is Deleted is it Ever Really Gone?
You also have to ask yourself: even once a picture is deleted is it really gone? There are many beliefs out there that once a picture has been digitalized and posted online than there is never any way to truly delete it. Others fear that their pictures will be stolen online and used without consent. There have also been many theories that include Facebook selling your pictures for profit.
Whatever the future holds it is glaringly obvious that our children’s digital footprints will be quite different from our own. As a generation Xer I grew up without my life being documented by pictures online. All of my embarrassing pictures are currently safety locked up in my family album — there is something to be said for privacy.
Perhaps it’s time for me to review my Facebook friendships and become more selective about which friends I share photos with. I also need to check my own privacy settings and make sure they are at maximum capacity. Finally, I will continue to only post ‘distant’ pictures of my children with my daughter’s consent (my son is only 3) and resist using their full names.
- Amy Webb, a futurist and CEO of the digital strategy firm Webbmedia Group
- Victoria Nash, the acting director of the Oxford Internet institute
- Based on a Consumer Reports Study