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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