Ust when you got your head around Facebook, you start hearing more new words every day: Snapchat. Twitter. Linkedin. Instagram and Tinder, never mind Reddit, Vine and Kik. Argh! Social media is a world away from the old days when we used to show off pictu
generation, Bob Dylan, and make an effort not to “criticise what we can’t understand”. Rather, let’s try to understand social media as far as we can (us mothers and fathers throughout the land, as the song goes). And the first question is, how safe is it to publish photos of your baby or child online?
MANAGE SOCIAL MEDIA ACTIVITY
Before your child has any online life of his or her own, you as the parent manage their online exposure. Much like your child sees you as part of himself for the first eight months of his life or so, so do new parents regularly blur the lines between where their identity ends and their child’s autonomy begins. Before you panic – this is normal and you are not being a bad parent! But you must recognise that, at some stage, the picture you publish on Facebook of your baby, or the funny story about the potentially embarrassing thing your toddler said, may come back to haunt your child when they are a teenager. One day, your baby will be sitting in a classroom surrounded by digitally connected peers. If there is a video of your child as a three-year-old farting and laughing about it, you can be sure thirteen-year-olds will be able to use it as bullying ammunition. Think carefully before you hit “publish” on Youtube. Don’t use your child’s full name or other identifying information or, better yet, send the clip directly only to those people you actually want to view it. The time will come when your child understands what you are doing when you share pictures of him on social media. If he asks you not to post something, don’t.
RISK OF IDENTIFICATION AND KIDNAPPING
It takes more restraint than most proud parents are capable of to refrain from posting your new baby’s face to the world on every social media platform you know soon after his arrival. Like getting married, breaking up or changing jobs, birth is a life-changing event and you would like your friends to know about it. How careful should you be, though, about disclosing your location? Should you tell which hospital you are at, for instance?
Home security companies advise you not to give details
of your holiday plans on social media, as criminals could target your home during your absence. Nature reserves ask visitors not to geotag their pictures of rhinos in case it leads poachers to them, as Fr Russell Pollitt, a Jesuit priest and the director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa, and Justine Limpitlaw, an electronic communications law consultant and adjunct professor at Wits University, point out in their talk, “Living With Integrity in the Digital World”. It is conceivable that child traffickers could similarly trawl the internet for information. Perhaps best to show restraint, no matter how paranoid it makes you seem. Post pictures with geotags only after you have left the location, or ensure you know how to switch the function off. This is good social media hygiene to practise even as your child ages.
A year or two later, your toddler enters nursery school. Now you must decide how safe it is for you to disclose the name of the school or other identifying traits on your social media profiles. It’s helpful to state the risks to yourself. Are you afraid of a kidnapping? How likely is it that a stranger would see your child’s image and school and decide to snatch them? Or do you have a known enemy? Perhaps the danger is closer to home – an estranged father who is a potential danger to the child. (If you are estranged from your ex or your children’s father and need to remain anonymous from him, do not publish pictures of your children online!)
We know that paedophiles target places where children congregate, for obvious reasons. But will a paedophile be more likely to stalk your school, and your child, because he has seen a picture of your child on social media, than any other child? If he merely views your child’s photo on his computer and finds it arousing, this in itself is distasteful and the thought distressing, but it may not pose a physical danger to your child. You must decide how much weight to attach to any of these risks, and weigh them up against the joy of sharing your life with your friends online.
But be sensible: don’t post pictures of your children naked. And understand that if you tag any of your Facebook friends (even if you have only 12) in the photo, the picture then becomes visible to all their friends... at which point you have lost control of the image. Once a picture is published, understand that it cannot be deleted. It leaves a digital footprint, and it is far, far more replicable (anybody can copy it) than a picture printed on a piece of paper.
Similarly, do not post pictures of other children, especially not ones that tag or otherwise identify them, without the permission of their parents.
South African author and lawyer Gail Schimmel, who has written on the subject “Facebook And Your Child“on her blog (gailschimmel. wordpress.com), says, “There can be some risk in posting a photo of your child with their name and location-specific information (like what school they attend) – there certainly are many anecdotes or urban legends about this. But on the whole, my feeling is that these risks are mitigated by high privacy settings.
“I think the harm in a school posting a general picture is minimal – the danger is when the paedophile can arrive at the school and say, ‘I’m here to fetch Jane Brown. Her mother Alison is in Durban today so she sent me.’ And because all the other information is true, the school buys it. I am not sure that this ever really happens, but that is where I see a possible risk.”
In a general way, it is true that a person who has insight into your movements or access to other information from your social media profile can use this information to your detriment. Be careful. Additionally, make sure that your school enforces a very strict sign-out policy for very young children, and coach older children in being able to say a very firm “no” to grown-ups who want them to get into their cars or accompany them anywhere. YB