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Sharing news on social media has become a part of everyday life – reaching friends nearby as well as others on the other side of the world at a click of a button.  ‘Sharenting’ is the easiest way of keeping in touch with friends and family, seeking advice and support. For many parents, it can be a lifeline to feel supported, get practical advice and reassurance. But posting news and photos about our children on social media continues to present challenges for some parents.

Here are a few things for all of us to think about before sharing photos of our kids on social media:

5 risks and implications of sharing your photos of children online:

  1. Is social media “real”?: quite often people feel that Facebook encourages people to put their ‘best’ selves first as oppose to their ‘real’ selves. If some parents are posting things online to get ‘likes’, that’s about getting validation from others – the question they need to ask themselves is, would they want their children to seek validation in the same way? Instagram also suffers a similar criticism of being too ‘image’ conscious.
  2. The potential of opening children up to cyber bullying: cyber bullying is rife on the internet and most young people will experience it or see it at some time. In Bullying UK’s recent national bullying survey, 56% of young people said they have seen others be bullied online and 42% have felt unsafe online. Cyber bullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and it can go viral very fast.
  3. Digital footprint: once something has been posted, the digital footprint makes its mark and the digital traces begin to form of how we portray ourselves and how we are perceived by others. Parents need to think about how their child will feel in the future. Will they feel ashamed, embarrassed, anxious, annoyed about certain photos posted? Another concern is the profiling of children on the basis of social media images, for example facial recognition, and a lack of transparency concerning the way in which that data is sold. The subject of big data is complex to navigate but at least be informed about how data is bought and used without us knowing, along with educational and medical information. Social media is one dimension of the data traces that are produced about children today.
  4. ID theft:”Sharenting” is the “weakest link” in risking online fraud and identity theft, warns Barclays Bank. The bank is forecasting that “sharenting” will account for two-thirds of identity fraud facing young people by the end of the next decade. Parents are being told that information on social media is vulnerable to being misused to hack passwords or for identity fraud scams. It is warning that parents might be lulled into a false sense of security and fail to realise they are making their children “fraud targets” in the future, by publishing so much personal information which will remain online, therefore compromising their children’s future financial security. The bank says parents can reveal names, ages and dates of births from birthday messages, home addresses, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, schools, the names of pets, sports teams they support and photographs. Such details, which will still be available when young people are adults, could be used for fraudulent loans or credit card transactions or online shopping scams.
  5. Predator sites: every parent’s nightmare and biggest fear, posting seemingly innocent photos of your child or teen has a sinister outcome that you may never have considered. A photo of your child could be part of a predator site or ring that has been uncovered by Police, and you may not even know about it.

5 Tips to reduce the risks:

  1. Self censorship. Stop and think is this really appropriate? Some parents feel that the risks of posting online are not large enough to warrant censoring themselves. But for many of us, we have no intention of using photographs of our toddlers to advertise for big brands, but we are still exposing them online. Perhaps sharing should be kept to a minimum early on. Children learn their own behaviours from their parents, including online behaviours. Parents can lead by way of appropriate example; all the more reason to pause and think before you share online. A quick scroll through your timeline will be a gentle reminder of the many things we choose to post about ourselves, would we do the same in relation to our children?
  2. Obtain your child’s permission. This, of course, depends on your child being old enough able to understand the issue: it is important to discuss the pros and cons of ‘sharing’ with children, even when they’re quite young. What matters to children is to feel they have agency, respect and dignity. Their privacy comes first and parents, (or anyone) sharing their images should consider prioritising this. There’s only so much any parent can do to protect their child but keeping them involved in the conversation especially on privacy and consent from an early age can only be a positive.
  3. Don’t post identifying markers. If photos are posted more publicly, try not to put photos of children in their school uniform and try not to show that you have a regular pattern. Turn off geotagging. Sharing photos with a handful of friends and family is one thing but sharing on public sites is quite another. It’s hard to maintain a complete absence of material about your child online as they take part in activities, where organisers and other parents whether with your consent, or unwittingly, photograph them. Some parents are very direct in saying to anyone that they’re not to share any images of their child on social media. And most people are understanding and are fine with that.
  4. Understand and make the most of privacy settings and lock them down. For example on ID fraud (see above), banks urge parents to check their online privacy settings to make sure that they know what information is being made available about their children; they advise that it’s vital to think before parents post, and to carry out regular audits of social media accounts to prevent that information from falling into the wrong hands. Continue to check the privacy settings to ensure that your photos are only viewable by your personal connections as some social media websites share your photos publicly by default. Ensure that these don’t contain personal information, and keep your social media profiles secure.
  5. Use closed group services. If you do want to share more personal or intimate photos of your children, restrict these to groups that you can control, or use services such as Storychest dedicated to the sharing photos of children, which have greater controls.

All this can help inform the development of strategies for parents to navigate a digital future for their child.

At Storychest, we take on board that parents use a combination of tools to share stories, news and photos of their children online. We also strongly feel that that people need to have more control of the social platforms rather than have the tech giants dictate to them how to ‘be’ and what to do.

We’ve created a closed group service, putting privacy and targeted sharing with family and closest friends at the heart of the Storychest app and feel that these are key differentiators to mainstream social media. We believe in giving people choices and believe that the Storychest app is a healthy choice for protecting the privacy of your child.

 

By Balvinder Gill, Co-founder, Storychest

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