It’s not uncommon for young people to post photos of their friends online, and the permission is usually implicit rather than explicit. While it’s not always intended to be cruel (though it sometimes is) sharing an image of a friend or peer without their permission is actually a recognised form of cyberbullying - especially if the photo is intended to defame or humiliate them.
This places importance on teaching children about consent, which then begs the question: should parents have to obtain consent from their children before posting photos of them online?
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A poll published by the BBC revealed that 70% of adults believe that it’s not OK to post photos of anyone else - including children - without their permission. It also showed that 56% of parents avoid ever posting images of their children online.
A spokeswoman for the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) urges parents to consider the fact that “each time a photo or video is uploaded, it creates a digital footprint of a child which can follow them into adult life”.
While parents tend to only act in their children’s best interest, there’s a legitimate argument to be made for encouraging them to seek permission before posting their child’s photos online. After all, if parents advocate digital consent and ownership, they can help to teach their children to value it as well. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner recently launched a #talkb4sharing campaign, which urges parents to talk to their children before posting their images online.
Yet, consent is not the only issue associated with posting photos online. The Internet has confronted society with some harrowing realities and ugly truths about humanity.
While the majority of adults use the Internet responsibly, there are those who use it to inflict harm on other adults - and sometimes even children. It’s therefore hugely important for parents to be aware of what can happen if their child’s photo or private information ends up in the wrong hands.
"It does not matter how innocent the photo is, if your child has got what a predator is looking for, they will take that photo." - Susan McLean, Cyber Safety Expert.
Here are the facts about posting pictures of children online:
50% of the images posted on paedophile sites were sourced from parents' social media profiles
More than 1 in 4 children admit to feeling worried, embarrassed, or anxious when their parents post photos of them on social media
51% of parents post information online that could lead to an identification of their child’s location at a given time
27% of parents share photos of their children online that could be considered inappropriate
Childhood is fleeting and it's perfectly normal for parents to want to capture it and record it. However, it's an unfortunate fact that parents sharing photos of their children online, or 'sharenting', can have grave consequences.
While no decent person would see a photo of a child as anything more than a priceless snapshot, the Internet can be home to some deeply depraved people who are capable of sexualising even the most innocent of images. The major danger of posting pictures online is that they can be so easily shared and downloaded - to the point where tens of millions of innocent, everyday images of children have been appropriated and used as child abuse material.
Further risks posed by sharing images online is that they can be edited to depict abusive and criminal acts, and they can also provide geolocation information that enables predators to track a child’s physical whereabouts.
As Commander Glen McEwen, Manager of Victim Based Crimes for the Australian Federal Police, states, “the world of paedophilia is very unstructured and very unpredictable”. Unfortunately, this makes it all the more difficult to gauge other ways in which a child’s safety could be compromised by having their photos shared online.
So, while it’s perfectly natural to want to share your child’s adorable anecdotes, success stories, or cute school pictures with other people through social media, every parent should take the following precautions in order to minimise the potential dangers of posting pictures online:
Utilise privacy controls and ensure that the image can only be viewed by a closed group containing your close friends and family
Be mindful of metadata - be sure to turn off geolocation enabled services
Always seek permission from other parents before posting images which include their children