MY SPACE OR YOURS?

N BERTELSMAN BY MAR­GOT a fake so­cial me­dia Should you make child? pro­file for your

Your Baby & Toddler - - TALKING POINT -

when the child cel­e­brates his 18th birth­day. Oth­ers cre­ate Face­book or other so­cial me­dia ac­counts which they cu­rate “for” their chil­dren. The par­ents then post con­tent – pic­tures or sta­tus up­dates – on be­half of or as if from that child. (You must be over 13 to have a Face­book ac­count; other so­cial me­dia sites have dif­fer­ent rules. So these par­ents ei­ther fake the birth­date or hold the ac­count in their own name for their child.) While this is a lovely idea, and it’s done with the best of in­ten­tions, read on to dis­cover how do­ing so might cause your child harm in years to come.

Cit­ing le­gal prece­dents in which de­fen­dants had to pay com­pen­sa­tion to vic­tims for things they said or posted on­line, “there is no doubts defam­a­tory and harm­ful ac­tion on Face­book has reper­cus­sions in South African Law,” cau­tions South African au­thor and lawyer Gail Schim­mel, who has writ­ten on the sub­ject of Face­book And Your Child on her blog (gailschim­mel. word­press.com). “What can oc­cur if par­ents post a pic­ture or story to their child’s ‘in­vented’ Face­book ac­count that will, at a later date, harm the child in some way?”

Pic­tures you’ve taken at gath­er­ings af­fil­i­ate your child to a po­lit­i­cal out­look – one that may be op­po­site from what he be­lieves as an adult. Thirty years on, your child wants to run for po­lit­i­cal of­fice in the ANC, but his op­po­nents have found pics of him at­tend­ing DA ral­lies as a child! “Or per­haps you take a pic­ture of your child hav­ing a ball at the cute pet­ting zoo,” says Gail. “In 30 years’ time sen­si­tiv­i­ties about cap­tive an­i­mals have evolved, and pet­ting zoos are seen as un­ac­cept­able. Your child has ap­plied for a po­si­tion in the Help An­i­mals Stay Free or­gan­i­sa­tion, but their prospec­tive em­ployer searches your child’s on­line pres­ence and comes across this photo...”

Thirty years ago, as Gail says, your par­ents may have taken you to a po­lit­i­cal rally, but they were not then able to post your pic­ture to a pub­lic, re­triev­able fo­rum. There­fore, there are good rea­sons for prac­tis­ing re­straint on­line. “The first is­sue is a moral one. No good par­ent wants to be the agent of harm in their child’s life. By post­ing happy mem­o­ries un­der our chil­dren’s names, we may be do­ing just that,” she says.

Gail clar­i­fies her con­cern is not with post­ing pic­tures of your chil­dren on your own page, but rather where you cre­ate a Face­book page in the name of your un­der­age child, as seems to be a new trend (though il­le­gal). Face­book has a new Scrap­book fea­ture, in which par­ents can tag pho­tos of their chil­dren, which will link to their pro­files, if and when they cre­ate one. Con­sider us­ing that fea­ture in­stead.

“The other is­sues are le­gal,” says Gail. “I be­lieve that par­ents of the fu­ture may find them­selves li­able to their child firstly in delict, and sec­ondly for in­fringe­ment of per­son­al­ity rights which will more and more come to in­clude own­er­ship of one’s on­line pres­ence.

“I un­der­stand the im­pulse to so eas­ily cre­ate a repos­i­tory of child­hood. But maybe it would be wiser to stick to a photo al­bum or a folder on your com­puter – and leave the de­ci­sion to your child as to what their pub­lic face will look like,” says Gail. YB

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