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?


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.


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

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