Have you ever shared an ultrasound on social media? Often our children have a digital footprint even before they’re born. And it isn’t an aspect of their lives they can control.
Here is why you should consider introducing consent when photographing and sharing images of your child – and why you should ensure others do the same.
Why online privacy and consent is important
Unfortunately, privacy tends to be a one-way street: once lost it’s hard to regain. The best way to preserve it is to have a privacy-first approach. When your child is old enough to manage their own digital footprint, they may decide to be laxer about privacy, but your role as a parent of a minor is to err on the side of caution.
In practice, this means being aware of what’s at stake as well as learning how to reduce risk. Unfortunately, like when you become a first-time parent, there is no stock standard manual you’re given on privacy as a guide.
Know the stakes
Exposure in the online world can actually present more risk than in the physical one. The wider audience and the alarming speed at which images can spread, coupled with the difficulty in removing posts, makes it important to consider what you’re sharing online and who to.
Risks include everything from your child developing a negative self-image to identity theft, cyberbullying, stalking and even paedophilia.
Knowing what’s at stake will help you develop a privacy-first mindset and associated practices. Some things you can do to protect your kids include:
- Be more careful about the photos you take and share: To protect their identity, avoid showing their full face and any other details that might reveal their location or school. Also consider other aspects such as clothing and poses.
- Be more careful about where you share: Get to know the permissions and privacy settings on the social media channels you use so you only share your child’s images with people you know and trust.
- Be more careful about what your photos might reveal: Smartphones record metadata such as date, time and GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken, so you may be inadvertently sharing location data. You can download tools to eliminate metadata or make a habit of posting a screenshot instead of the original image. This removes the metadata and also creates a lower resolution image that’s less susceptible to tampering.
As your child gets older, you should start asking them if you can post a photo of them to help them understand they can have more control over their own image. Talk to them about privacy, their rights and the risks and teach them that they should have a choice about where their image appears.
When they are old enough to have their own social media accounts (and taking into account that the digital age of consent in Australia is 13), discuss the risks and together you can figure out the boundaries of what images are appropriate to share.
Speak to other sharers and educate them on consent
Next on your list should be other sharers, who are likely to be friends, family and other parents and carers, such as your child’s friends’ parents. Make your wishes about consent and photographing your child known to them. You may hit some resistance, for example people who might think you’re being oversensitive or overprotective, so don’t be afraid to share material, such as this article, with them.
You might want to mention stats such as this from the Australian eSafety Commission: half of all images on paedophile image-sharing sites originate from social media sites and blogs, and most are completely innocent snaps, with nothing inappropriate about them at all.
Create a circle of trust out of the people who understand your concerns and who you know will protect your child’s image. Share images with them only, for example through social media permissions such as a closed group, or a specialised image-sharing platform, instead of in a public forum.
Lead by example when practising consent; ask parents/carers for permission when you go to photograph their child so it becomes a normalised practice embedded in their mind.
Speak to organisations about consent
The other parties that may take and publish images of your child are child-safe organisations such as schools and clubs. Consider a child, already conscious of their learning difficulties, who unknowingly becomes the poster child for their school’s remedial learning department – for such a child, consent is crucial for their mental wellbeing and reduces vulnerability to bullying.
If the organisation already has a process in place to capture photographic permission, read the paperwork carefully. Consent should be specific; for example you may be fine with your child’s photo appearing in the club’s email newsletter sent only to members but draw the line at the club sharing it on social media – the paperwork should reflect those distinctions and the organisation must comply with those boundaries.
If there is currently no consent process, ask for one, even if you have to educate the organisation about why it’s needed.
So often we teach children about sharing without teaching them about when not to share. In a world where we expose so much of our lives, it’s time we started thinking privacy-first, for our children’s sake.