Sharenting: What parents should consider before posting their children’s photos online
21st century parenting is firmly grounded in technology. From iPads keeping kids entertained on flights, to apps that allow parents to track their children’s feeds, development, and more, technology has changed what it means to be a parent. But social media has added another dimension. The average child now has a digital footprint that often begins when their parents post an ultrasound photo, inviting friends and family to share in a joyous event through regular “sharenting.” However, some parents—especially those that adopted social media at an early age—have fallen into the trap of posting about their children a little too frequently, a condition called ‘oversharenting’. Like anything to do with social media, this comes with several risks. For this reason, it is important for parents to understand how to safely post about their kids.
What is sharenting?
Sharenting refers to the practice of parents sharing photos of their children online. Usually, images are shared on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and capture quotidian moments in children’s lives, such as first steps, trips to the zoo, school performances, and holidays, for example. But as much as parents may want to share their children’s achievements and lives with friends and family, sharing photos online can be problematic.
There are, of course, some positives about sharenting. For example, parents often build communities online through social media platforms. This can be a great resource for parenting and gives first-time parents a sense of camaraderie during a time when they may feel like they have no idea what they are doing. Similarly, for parents who live far away from other family members and friends, sharing photos of their kids online offers a way to involve these important people in their children’s lives. However, when parents share images that contain personal details about the child, or details that could be embarrassing for the children as they become older, ‘oversharenting’ can become a problem.
As social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have become more pervasive in society, sharenting has become very normalized. In fact, statistics show that parents are more than willing to share images and videos of their children online. As such, more than 75% of parents have shared their children’s images on social media, and 33% have never asked their children for permission before sharing photos online.
What are the dangers of sharenting?
While posting images of kids may seem innocuous, parents should be aware that sharing photos online—with family, friends, acquaintances, or the public—can be problematic. As such, there are several factors parents need to consider before posting pictures of their children on social media. These are especially pertinent because some of these considerations can present sharenting dangers, including:
- The pervasiveness of social media.
- The permanence of digital content and the internet.
- Potential embarrassment as the child grows.
- Identity theft from information in the shared information.
The problem is that once images are online, parents have no way of knowing how far they go and how other people might be able to use them. There is the added complication that whatever is posted online remains there forever, even if the original poster deletes it. ‘Oversharenting’ creates a digital footprint for the child whose picture is involved in the online photo sharing, which presents numerous potential complications, such as loss of privacy and financial or identity fraud, for example. Below are some of the sharenting dangers parents should be aware of.
Risk of identity theft
Many parents do not realize that their sharenting habits expose incredible amounts of personal information about their children. A survey conducted by Security ORG found that approximately 75% of parents shared a picture, story or video of their child online, and more than 80% of parents use their kids’ real names on social media posts. Cybercriminals can parse shared photos—and the accompanying captions—to figure out a child’s name, birthday, and location. By combining this with other information, perhaps gained through phishing or on the Dark Web through data breaches, these malicious actors can steal the child’s identity for nefarious means.
Permanence of digital content
Although many of the platforms parents use for sharing photos online with family and friends offer the ability to delete posts, this may not be enough to protect a child. Everything that is shared on the internet could leave a permanent trail, even if the original poster removes their post. As such, it is often better to not post an image in the first place, rather than risk ‘oversharenting’ with a photo that contains sensitive details that could put the child at risk.
Losing control of images
Another danger of online photo sharing is that posters have no control over what happens to their images once they are on the internet. Even though some parents may use privacy settings on their social media profiles, once they share images of their children, they have little ability to manage what people do with the photo. For example, people can save the images and share them with other people. The images could even be altered and misused by malicious actors. Another sharenting danger to consider is that most social media sites own any content posted to their platforms. This clause is usually hidden in the terms and conditions that most users scroll through without reading. As such, when a parent posts a photo of their child online, the platform on which it is shared has ownership of the image.
Sharenting dangers of child predators
Another potential consequence of parents sharing photos of their kids online is unwitting exposure to child predators. In the same survey by SecurityORG it found that nearly 80% of parents say they have social media connections whom they have never met in real life. The images parents share can contain information that allows predators to track children. For example, images might show the child’s school or uniform, or the street name of the family home, while geotags can allow people with nefarious intent to track the child’s real-time location. In addition, because parents cannot control how far these photos spread, it is impossible to know where they end up, even with privacy controls in place. As such, it is important for parents not to engage in ‘oversharenting’ images of their child and minimize the ability of potential predators to find and abduct the child.
Privacy and legal issues of oversharenting
One of the biggest problems with sharenting is the question of privacy. Young children are too young to consent to their parents sharing photos online with family and other people, and even older minors may not entirely grasp the full implications of posting online. In fact, a recent study found that 29% of parents share content about their child without getting the child’s consent; only 24% say they ask their child for permission to post each time. Furthermore, the study found that 32% of children say that their parent has shared a story, image, or video of them on social media even after they explicitly asked them to refrain. All of this suggests that online photo sharing has inherent privacy issues between children and parents.
Babies, by virtue of their limited communication skills, are incapable of giving informed consent to online photo sharing. But it is especially important for parents to consider the ramifications of sharenting, especially as their children grow. In certain countries, such as France and Germany, the legal system gives children the right to their own images. While the issue is more complex in the US, there are still privacy and legal issues to consider. The ”DaddyoFive” YouTube channel demonstrates why these issues are so complex. The channel was used as evidence of abusive behavior by the parents—the lawyers also argued that the way in which the videos were shared was a form of abuse— and resulted in two of the children concerned being taken into emergency custody.
Once children are old enough to understand social media and the ramifications of posting on these platforms, it is important for parents to begin asking for consent for online photo sharing. This not only demonstrates that the parents respect the children’s privacy, but also helps eliminate privacy issues between children and their parents. In addition, involving children in the process of deciding which photos can be shared online introduces them to the concept of responsible online etiquette before they begin using social media themselves.
Another privacy concern of sharenting is posting images of other people’s children, whether this is intentional or not. For example, parents often take photos of their children’s sporting events or performances in which other children appear. In these instances, it is crucial that parents ask the other children’s parents for consent to share these photos online.
10 tips for safely sharing photos online with family and friends
In light of the sharenting dangers outlined here, parents may well be wondering whether any online photo sharing of their children is safe. Of course, this is a very personal choice. Some parents choose not to post any images of their children at all. But for those who wish to continue sharing photos online with family, there are numerous ways to improve the security of these photos and minimize the risks of ‘oversharenting’. Here are some things to remember:
- Check privacy settings: Ensure that all posts can only be seen by family and close friends and remove resharing permissions. Allowing strangers and acquaintances to see children’s photos can be a sharenting danger.
- Have discussions about privacy with friends and family: Be vocal about protecting children’s privacy and set boundaries about how they can engage with posts.
- Turn off metadata and geotagging: Not using these functions can minimize other people’s ability to track children through online photo sharing.
- Do not include identifiable information: Whether it is in the photo itself or in the captions, be sure not to share details that would allow others to find and track children. This can include things like names, birthdates, schools, places they regularly go to, or even family homes.
- Avoid using real names: Avoid giving people online access to children’s full names. Instead, use nicknames or descriptive phrases for kids.
- Do not post potentially embarrassing images: Whether they are photos of the children in the bath or dressed in funny outfits, these images may cause problems for the child as they grow up.
- Use secure platforms: Instead of sharing photos online, use more secure platforms to show pictures of children to friends and family. For example, WhatsApp protects photos with end-to-end encryption and gives users the option to send photos that can only be opened once.
- Avoid showing the child’s face: To avoid ‘oversharenting’, some parents cover their children’s faces before posting their photos to social media. This can be done by using the “stickers” built into apps, like Instagram, to cover their faces or using editing tools to blur or block out their features.
Questions to consider when sharing photos online
Before sharing posts about their children on social media, parents should ask themselves several questions. These can help assess the potential implications of the posts and help parents decide if they are acceptable or would be considered ‘oversharenting’. Answer these questions sharing posting photos online:
- Why is the post being shared? Perhaps it is to keep your friends and family updated about your child’s development, or it is simply because it is an adorable moment. Either way, it is important to understand the intention behind the post.
- Would it be acceptable to allow someone else to share a similar post? While everyone approaches social media differently, it is important to consider whether the post would be okay if the roles were reversed. If the child in question is old enough to understand and give consent, ask them directly.
- Is there anything potentially embarrassing about the post? Since things posted online can leave a permanent footprint, consider whether the post could cause the child embarrassment later in life.
- Does the post contain anything that could be potentially compromising? As above, consider whether the post could cause difficulties for the child later in life. Perhaps there are religious or political sentiments that might bar the child from being employed at a certain company as an adult.
- Would the child be happy to see the post as part of their digital footprint? Think about what the post says about the child, and how they might want to be perceived as an adult. Would the post be a nice memory or perhaps paint them in a negative light?
Think twice before sharenting
Sharenting is the natural result of a world where social media is used spontaneously to capture moments of life and share them with others. While the practice does have some advantages, parents should spare a little more thought when sharing photos of their children online. This is because sharenting can pose many dangers, including identity theft and exposure to potential predators. In addition, sharenting can result in negative repercussions for the child when they are older. For example, it could impact their job prospects. Since sharenting essentially creates their children’s digital footprints before they are old enough to consent to it, the practice can also create privacy issues between children and parents that can erode trust in that relationship. For all these reasons, it is important for parents to think twice before posting about their kids.
Kaspersky Endpoint Security received three AV-TEST awards for the best performance, protection, and usability for a corporate endpoint security product in 2021. In all tests, Kaspersky Endpoint Security showed outstanding performance, protection, and usability for businesses.
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