Let’s be honest; some parents would hold a four-day celebration festival in honour of their newborn’s arrival if it didn’t cut into the nappy and formula budget! Of course, that’s slightly hyperbolic, but the point is: moms and dads get very excited about their children and often create photo albums to document memories and milestones. But parenting in the digital age is a whole different ball game.
The days of Polaroids and ring binders are long gone; nowadays, thanks to smartphones and social media, chronicling a child’s life and sharing it with friends and family is as easy as snapping a pic and clicking “Share.” In fact, according to ParentZone.org.uk, the average parent uploads close to 1, 500 images of their child before they are five years old. It even has its own portmanteau: “sharenting.”
And while parents’ intentions may be good, they could face severe consequences for this seemingly innocuous act.
As activists point out, Facebook is increasingly being noted as a tool used in sexual exploitation. It’s been widely reported that not only do pedophiles trawl parents’ Facebook pages with hopes of coming across and downloading images of minors for their pleasure, but a number of pedophilic Facebook “Groups” have also been uncovered in which sexual predators share and distribute pictures amongst themselves. Considering that an estimated 40% of rapes in South Africa are committed against children, it is important to keep in mind that social media creates new opportunities for predators to find their young victims
Remember, in South Africa (and most other countries) parents are the legal guardians of their children until the age of 18. Therefore, parents are responsible for protecting their little ones’ right to privacy and security.
Then there is also the ever-growing scourge of human trafficking that is on the increase, and social media is playing a big part in expanding these terrifying networks due to thousands of fake Facebook profiles being created on a weekly basis that link out to various websites selling children. While exact figures haven’t been confirmed, it is estimated that more than 30, 000 children are trafficked in and out of South African every year.
What’s even more unsettling is the fact that parents’ Facebook posts of their children are inadvertently exposing them to human trafficking syndicates. A German awareness campaign called ‘Share Smart’ likened sharing images of your child on Facebook to handing out pamphlets and putting up posters “advertising” him/her to the public.
So things can get even more complicated. As mentioned earlier, parents must protect their children’s privacy and security, and must make sure that nothing harmful happens in the future as well! In a rather strange turn of events, parents could even face damages claims from their children. Yes, you read that correctly.
While no such case has been documented in South Africa, 2016 saw an 18-year-old Austrian woman suing her parents for sharing “embarrassing” baby pictures of her with over 700 friends on Facebook without her permission. The woman reportedly asked her folks to remove the images because they were a violation of her privacy, but they refused. Her father claimed that because he took the pictures, he has the right to distribute them. According to the woman’s lawyer, her client has an excellent chance of winning the case.
Meanwhile, France has implemented rigid privacy laws when it comes to holding parents accountable for endangering their children through the careless posting of images online. In fact, parents could be fined over R600 000, and in severe cases, could face up to one year in prison.
As seen in our Think Before You ‘Share‘ feature, social media language, such as “like,” “tag” and “share” are being considered in South African courts when it comes to holding people accountable for what they post about others. Sure, we have the right to Freedom of Expression, but this does not supersede the right to Dignity, Privacy, and Security.
Parenting is not always easy, and social media doesn’t make it any easier. So, again, be very careful of how you use social media, especially when it comes to “sharenting” because sharing isn’t always caring.
ONLINE SAFETY TIPS FOR SHARING IMAGES OF YOUR CHILD
- Be mindful of who might see the photos, who else is in the picture and whether or not they put your child in danger.
- If you are posting images of other people and their children, make sure you get their permission to do so.
- Check privacy settings for all social media accounts as well as the smart devices that are used. It’s smart to change privacy settings to control who sees what. Also, check geo-location settings as this could expose locations and schedules.
- Look at the different social media platforms’ Terms and Conditions or Statement of Rights and Responsibilities as these companies often have the right to copy and use photos or videos.
- Schools often take pictures to celebrate achievements or commemorate events. Make sure they have proper consent policies in place for storing videos, photos and sharing on their social media accounts.