Imagine: You are just 3 years old. You barely know how to utter a few words but your cute face has already turned you into a social media sensation. Your relatives and their friends can’t help but to click LIKE and SHARE as they expose you and your family to more, unnecessary attention from strangers you will never meet.
Social networks are full of images of children doing tricks and posing with cute faces. Each image is shared – without any consent – by the father, mother, family member or friend.
LIKES and SHARES are received and praise is also given, which automatically lead to publishing new pictures of innocent children. This has been the case for several years without anyone considering the consequences. However, recently, as the public realizes the impact that social media have in their right to privacy, doubt has begun to spread: do we act irresponsibly when uploading pictures of children to the Internet?
Images of 3 out of 4 children under two years of age have been placed online, according to a study by the Internet security company AVG with data from citizens of 10 countries: The United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
The emotion of fatherhood is one of the causes of this drive, it seems. On average, parents of children under 6 years of age upload 2.1 images a week, according to a study with information from 1,300 American parents.
Exposure of children with ages between 6 and 13, suffer a decline in social media posts, with just under 2 images posted per week. When the child turns 14, the momentum is reduced to less than once a week.
Despite unnecessarily exposing their children on social media, parents are concerned for the future consequences in their children’s lives due to the amount of online information they provide about them.
This concern may have been reinforced after knowing that Facebook – the company that has done the most to promote invasions of privacy – believes that the government should intervene in people’s private life.
While the communication sector is forced to protect the identity of children who appear in its pages, the massive publication of images without children’s filters in the networks has turned protection into an impossibility. Of course, exposure of children is not to be blamed on social media, but on the parents who post the images.
The phenomenon is such that has given rise to a new term: sharenting, the sum of share (sharing) and parenting (parenting).
The first person to write a detailed study on this widespread phenomenon was the lawyer Stacey Steinberg, who in 2016 published the Sharenting report, the privacy of children in the age of social networks.
This law professor from the University of Florida, USA, and mother, studied in depth the implications of this planetary custom that has been going on for more than a decade.
Parents are, on the one hand, “watchdogs of their children’s personal information and, on the other, the narrators of their children’s lives,” Steinberg writes.
In narrating, we share information about children while depriving them of the right to do so on their own terms. And that is a potential source of damage to which we have paid little attention.
What are the risks?
The risks to which minors are subjected are numerous. For starters, we make it easier for criminals and perverts, who in many cases are relatives and close neighbors, to be up to date about our children’s lives. But there are also other dangers of digital origin.
If someone captures an image or video of a child, they can pretend they have caught them and claim a ransom. Someone can also impersonate their identity in social networks.
If, in addition, when announcing the birth of a baby we add the date – something that many parents do – we could be propitiating the theft of their identity. Not to mention the cyberbullying that we may cause when uploading a ridiculous photo of our son or daughter.
But there is another more obvious consequence that we do not usually take into account: the opinion of the child. About 58% of American parents who share photos believe that uploading them without the express consent of their children is correct, according to McAfee security company.
Another 40% believe that the photo could end up embarrassing the child, but that it will not matter or that the child will be able to overcome such embarassment. However, what is being proven is precisely the opposite: that many children do not like the use that their parents make of their image.
In France, authorities can impose fines of up to 45,000 euros plus one year in prison for publishing intimate photos of children without their permission.
Making easy cash on the backs of children
Do we upload the images because they touch the emotional part of people or are we really commercializing the children?
Can we expect the networks themselves to curb our loquacity?
It would not be difficult for social media networks to create a very big and clear button that said: ‘Share ONLY with my direct family’. But if that means collecting less money, let’s forget about it. They won’t do it.
Could the courts put a stop to the parents?
Typically, they are reluctant to prioritize the right to privacy of minors before that of their own family.
Parents are supposed to be the best guardians of their children’s privacy and when they are not, the judges generally accept that parents do their best for them.
Stacey closes her text with several recommendations to parents interested in protecting their children:
- Become familiar with the privacy policies of the networks in which you upload photos.
- Set alerts that notify them when their child’s name appears in a search result on Google.
- Consider not revealing the identity of the child.
- Do not give clues about the places you visit.
- Have people ask for permission before sharing information about your children.
- Never upload a photo of your children with little clothes.
- Consider if the information that you are sharing about your children can have a negative effect in their well-being and in their psychological development.
What advice would you give parents who enjoy sharing photos of their children online? Do you share photos of your children online? What measures do you take to protect their privacy?
Tell us about your experience in the comment section.