The picture was of my son (now an actor) aged 3, wearing nothing but a shield and carrying a sword. Taken before social media, I thought it would be sweet to put it into a collage with a few other photos and post it on Facebook for his 21st Birthday. Fortunately, I showed him the collage before posting it, because his reaction to my request was panicked fury!
He told me how fans of the series he was in, had already trawled the internet for pictures of him and how he and his girlfriend had been trying to stay one step ahead of the fans to remove anything that might be embarrassing. I was surprised that fans would go to such extremes, (who has the time?!), but it left me thinking….
Social media has become an inescapable part of most of our lives. Whether we’re sharing pictures from our holidays or birthdays, or aspiring to be an influencer, we often share our own and our children’s image without a second thought.
Although sharing your baby’s picture from their first birthday party on Facebook and Instagram may be done with the best intentions, do we ever consider our child’s right to choose whether their image lives online?
So much of the information about keeping children safe online is focused on your child’s use of social media and the internet. Children are taught about it in school and it is now a regular feature of safeguarding training. But whilst we’re so worried about what our children are posting online, we don’t think twice about what we’re sharing about them.
Here are a few compelling reasons to leave your child off the internet - at least until they have the awareness and maturity to make that decision for themself.
We probably wouldn’t post a picture or video of an adult friend online without asking their permission, so why do we do this so freely with our children? By sharing their image without a second thought, we are implicitly telling them that their consent doesn’t matter.
If your child isn’t old enough to reasonably give consent, then don’t share it until they are old enough to understand and make that decision for themself.
The sexualisation of child’s images online is an ever-present danger and despite what privacy settings we turn on, if we share images online, we can’t always know who can access them.
There are many instances of images that are innocently shared by parents on public forums turning up on child pornography sites. Increasingly these images can also be realistically digitally manipulated to be made explicit.
According to an Australian Children’s eSafety Commissioner, one site offered at least 45 million images, half of which were photos of children taken from social media accounts.
Posting photos online can also help predators to identify locations where your child might be regularly, from the background views, clothes they are wearing and times that you post.
Without meaning to fearmonger, if you post your child’s image online, you can’t ever have complete control over where it will end up or who will see it.
We all know the damage that can be caused by past pictures or videos of people that resurface years later. The truth is, your online image is difficult to erase. If you share photos or videos of your children now that could embarrass or shame them in the future, then you’re contributing to potential emotional harm.
Even if the pictures that you post aren’t seemingly embarrassing, they could be dug up and used to bully or shame them in the future.
The right to privacy is a basic human right enshrined in the Human Rights Act. This includes ‘respect for your private and confidential information, including the storing and sharing of data about you’ and ‘the right to control the spreading of information about your private life, including photographs taken covertly’.
If this is one of the pillars of a fair and just society, then why aren’t we applying the right to privacy to children? Why are we teaching them from the very beginning that their image and personal information belong online? They may wish to grow up with a minimal digital imprint, we need to give them that option.
Allowing your child to choose whether their image lives online, is a powerful learning opportunity for them. At a time when children grow up enmeshed in a digital world, the ability to explain and have a discussion with your child about the pros and cons of sharing their online image, allows them to critically consider their viewpoint and begin to form opinions on online presence, rather than just accepting it as the status quo.
It may still be that they decide that they’re happy for their image to go online when they’re old enough, but at least they feel respected and empowered to choose that for themself.
Of course, as a parent or caregiver, it’s natural to want to share photos and moments with friends and family.
Instead of posting your child’s photo on a public forum, why not set up a WhatsApp or Signal group to share baby and child photos and updates? Or for older relatives, you could get some printed out and send them in the post, so they could put them up on their fridge?
You’ll make sure that the most important people still see your child’s photos and maybe it will also give them a chance to comment and engage more than on a more public forum.
What do you think? Is your child’s image online? Would you do anything differently?