The Dangers Of Sharing Photos Of Your Children Online
Posted on 6th October 2023
“I am just sharing photos of my child, what’s the harm?”
The average parent shares almost 1,500 images of their child before their fifth birthday, research has revealed - prompting major concerns from cyber experts about the safety of young people online. 'Sharenting' is the phenomenon of sharing photos and videos of children on social media, and while this may seem like an innocent way to keep family and friends in the loop as your child grows up, it can be incredibly dangerous.
According to a 2018 study by Barclays Bank, more than 80 per cent of children will have an online presence by the age of two. While many parents see their social media pages as a modern-day scrapbook of memories that they can easily share in with friends and loved ones, cyber security experts say there are seven major dangers of sharing these photos and details. We look at them here and then ask yourself the question, “what’s the harm?”
No such thing as 'private'
Most parents who post pictures of their children online will be doing so on a privacy-protected social media account. Unfortunately, these privacy settings offer a false sense of security. Even photos of your children posted on closed accounts can be screenshotted and redistributed to larger audiences.
It has become increasingly clear that as soon as you post something online, you’ve effectively lost control over it. Even home cameras or baby monitors can all generate digital data that could end up in the wrong hands.
Identity theft is a major risk associated with sharenting. Parents may unknowingly be putting their children at risk by including confidential information.
According to research, 45.2 per cent of posts that feature children on Facebook also mention the child's name and 19 per cent of posts on Instagram that feature children mention both their name and date of birth.
The experts added: "If this data were to be combined with social security information obtained illegally on the dark web, digital kidnapping would become a serious risk."
What is digital kidnapping?
It is when a stranger steals photos of a child and posts them as if the child were theirs. They then post the photos across their social media accounts and revel in the ‘likes’ and comments they receive. There are even a set of social media hashtags that can accompany such pictures, indicating to like-minded viewers that the poster is role playing and creating a false online world in contrast to their real world. These hashtags may include #adoptionrp, #orphanrp, and #babyrp.
Cyber criminals are also using photos they have stolen to create online profiles and using those to access other children. The possibilities from there are endless.
Where there are children online, there are sexual predators. Investigators looking into child abuse online have found that tens of millions of photos of children shared on social media resurface on pornographic platforms. Even if the material itself is not explicit, the commentary on them often is on these platforms. Moreover, the photos could be digitally manipulated to take on a sexual nature.
As a parent, you must be mindful of what you post. Posting holiday snaps from the beach with your child in swimwear can seem innocent, but the image can easily be abused. Remember, no child of any age is safe. There is a sexually deviant audience for every child from a new-born baby to a 16 year old and from a physically and mentally fit child to a child with disabilities.
Despite a parent’s good intentions, children may grow up to be embarrassed by certain online content posted without their consent. The negative consequences of a digital footprint may only follow years after the fact, but in some cases, public humiliation on social media is used as a parenting technique.
In 2016, an 18-year-old girl in Austria sued her parents for sharing over 500 photos of her with their Facebook friends. She claimed that these photos, depicting her in extremely personal ways, have had very negative real-life consequences.
You are not parading yourself in the images you post, you are parading your children. Firstly, maybe you don’t have the right to parade them on social media without their express permission. Secondly, once it is out there on the web, it stays forever and can re-appear at any point in a child’s life or when that child is an adult.
Digital photos of your children, as it turns out, say more about them than you might think. Metadata is attached to each photo that we post on social media sites and tells third parties all sorts of things about what is in the photo, where it was taken, and what type of person posted it.
Data brokers work hard to build social profiles of internet users allowing companies to build a digital dossier on users that tells them exactly what they are most likely to click on. The manipulative power of these types of systems is far-reaching and dangerous, experts say, especially regarding children’s data. Letting information about your child become subject to surveillance is risky.
Many big tech companies have terms and conditions that give them the rights to user-generated content. By posting photos on social media, you are effectively handing over ownership of your photos to corporate companies, which makes removing photos very difficult. These photos of your children can live on forever on the internet, giving a sense of permanence to a child’s identity.
Could future employers or university admissions offices deny your child future opportunities because they have found an online video of your child having a tantrum? It is difficult to look into the future and know for certain what could happen to the photographs and videos of your children, but you must ask yourself if it is worth the risk.
Recently, a 18 year old young man had his application to a university declined because the vetting committee found two videos of him on social media. The first video had been posted by school friends and showed him involved in a playground fight at primary school. The second video showed him having a tantrum in a supermarket when he was an infant. The university deemed him unsuitable.
Lack of legislation
In the UK, The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) was created to protect children from sexual abuse online.
In this fast-evolving world of social media, sharenting can have serious consequences. Children are exposed to dangers as their parents set boundaries on their behalf regarding social media.
While these dangers are worth considering, there are certainly ways you can safely share pictures of your family life online if you remain conscious of the possible consequences and consider the position of your child."
The top five ways to go about this are as follows:
Switch to private emails instead of sharing content on social media
Avoid nudity and partial nudity
Limit confidential information
Get your child’s consent
Never share photos of other people’s children
Who is watching you?
At McKenzie Picave, we work with clients who are embroiled in Court proceedings. There is a degree of acrimony to everything we are involved in. We often review social media accounts belonging to our client and the other party to see what information we can glean.
We certainly do not regard ourselves as experts in this area but watching an account for a while, we can often establish:
Patterns relating to when the account owner posts which can indicate when they are home and when they are not…burglary perhaps?
The school a child goes to, the child’s birthday, the venues or playcentres they regularly go to, what they enjoy doing, the names of siblings and friends…more than enough to engage the child in the real world and gain their trust?
Sufficient images of the child to use sophisticated photo editing software to place that child in a number of unsavoury settings…child porn?
Invaluable information drawn from what is in the background of photos and videos, where you don’t look when you are taking the picture or filming the moment…
We are all incredibly proud of our children but don’t place them at risk of harm or set a trap which will trip them up in the years ahead. They won’t thank you for that.
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