‘Sharenting’ — Parenting in the Digital Age
THIS question was raised during one of my lectures on Data Privacy Act:
Scarlet Snow Belo, 3 years old, has already garnered 2.7 million followers in her Instagram account. Her life has been an open-book to everyone, including me. Her followers know her favorite food, favorite toys, her activities, where she spends her vacation and what she does “ATM” or at the moment. For the 2.7 million followers, the life of Scarlet has been part of their everyday lives. While we admire her wittiness and cuteness, it is unlikely that it is Scarlet who is actually doing the social media posts herself. It is even more doubtful whether Scarlet herself created and controls her Instagram account. If it is not Scarlet herself, then who could be doing this on her behalf? And how can a threeyear-old consent to all such postings? I wonder if she already understands the consequences of her presence in social media and whether she knows that she too, at her tender age, and like everyone else, should enjoy the fundamental right to privacy.
Parents are the number one protectors of their children. Their parental instinct dictates what’s best for their children. But without the proper information and guidance, parents also have the propensity of putting their children at risk of personal privacy intrusion or violation in social media and cyberspace.
“Sharenting” is a term used to describe the ways many parents share details about their children’s lives online. In a journal titled
(Steinberg, 2017), the author raised the issue that there is an ample discussion focused on the threats children face when they are online, and yet little discussion is centered at the parents’ choices to publish information about their children in the virtual world and its effects. I agree with the author, especially now that parents are into vlogging the daily activities of their children, their health, and behavioral issues; they share practically anything about their child as often as they update their IG stories, Facebook posts, or Twitter status. This matter is left uncheck as it involves the constitutionally guaranteed right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. And we expect parents to be the gatekeepers of their children’s personal information.
Oversharing in the information age
Posting photos of children online creates a privacy risk and this is something left unrealized by most of the parents. In Europe, a mother posted a photo of her daughter on Facebook and soon after, she discovered that the photo of her child was taken and used as homepage photo of a certain website. They call this “digital kidnapping.” This pertains to identity theft that targets minors; it occurs when a stranger, follower or liker steals a photo of a minor from the internet posts and makes it as if it is his or her own.
Parental oversharing does not refer to parents discussing their kids with friends and family. Two criteria must be present: First, the children
needs to be an ambition to reach a mass audience (Bovy, 2013).
Necessary in parental oversharing is the intent to reach a wide number of audiences. This could be apparent in instances where parents create their child’s own social media account, shoot episodes of their kid’s daily activity; and post photos and videos that would be engaging to public, that would garner likers and shares. This parental oversharing has been criticized as something that goes beyond sharing to exploitation of their own children (Bovy, 2013). While parents overshare innocently the personal information of their children online, exploitation is an inevitable consequence of it, for instance, when parents use their kids for marketing purposes to gain popu-
Whether the post is positive or not, the potential harms and risk brought by the Internet cannot be denied.
The effects of parental oversharing and sharenting span as these children reach adulthood. By having their parents choose for them a celebrity/showbiz life, children will be left with no choice but to embrace this kind of life when they grow old. Scarlet is just among of the many kids being raised in the social media spotlight. Scarlet is considered a
her life is becoming part of public domain to which people can just talk about in the exercise of their right to free speech and expression.
Parents’ primary duty to rear their child
The 1987 Constitution recognizes the natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of their children (Article 2, Section 12). Parental Authority under the Family Code includes the right of the parent over the person and property of his/her child. Parents have the responsibility to care for and rear their children for civic consciousness
of their moral, mental and physical character and well-being. Pursuant to this parental authority, it is also incumbent upon the parents to protect the privacy of their children. In fact, it is through the assistance of parents that a child can validly give consent to the processing of his or her personal information.
As the children embrace the Internet and digital technologies, parents are more critical in regulating their child’s behavior online as they fear incidents of cyberbullying, sexting, harassment, and the like. But parents fail to examine upon themselves if what they are doing with their children’s information has a far-reaching effect as their children grow up. As adults, we are so careful about leaving our digital footprints online; we have the option to limit the audience of our post; we
in a manner that we want to. But for a child like Scarlet, does she really have a choice? Even before reaching 5 years old, her digital footprint is all over the Internet and it is something that will remain forever. And it is not only Scarlet; a lot of people are sharing sonograms of their children and thus, they are creating the social media presence of their children even before they can have a glimpse of the real world.
Our Constitution and Family Code rely upon the parents to protect the interest of their children. In this information age, the guidance and protection of parents are needed. Our data privacy law has nothing to protect these children from parental oversharing and sharenting; except in cases when these children invoke their right to be forgotten, i.e., a legal mechanism to compel permanent removal of their personal information from online databases (such as google search engine).
Culture of Privacy
The enactment of the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (DPA) is a giant leap in cultivating the culture of privacy in the Philippines. We must admit, unlike in European countries where privacy is a norm, we live and grew up in a country that gives little regard to privacy. But with DPA, there is at least a conscious effort to protect one’s privacy especially in terms of the ability to control information about one’s self. However, the law is geared towards protection of personal information processed by third parties, such as schools and hospitals, and not by parents, who are acting in their personal capacity. For schools and other entities, they are now circumspect before sharing the child’s information. If schools negligently disclose certain information about the child, a parent would usually be outraged for having violated the child’s right to information privacy. And yet, they are unstoppable when it comes to sharing the personal lives of their children.
The law applies to personal information controller and processors. “Personal information controller” (“Data controller”) refers to a person or organization who controls the collection, holding, processing or use of personal information. The term excludes an individual who collects, holds, processes, or uses personal information in connection with the individual’s personal, family or household affairs. Certainly, parents are not acting as data controllers whenever they share and disclose personal information of their children online. This kind of processing can be perceived as personal, family or household affairs. Since parents cannot be considered as data controllers, oversharing and sharenting are not covered under DPA. DPA is not intended to address this kind of situation, neither it is intended to hamper the natural and fundamental right of parents to rear their children.
As regards the parents’ sharing personal information of their children, our laws do not afford protection against sharenting or oversharing. Most likely, legislators will be hesitant too to propose one as this will directly collide with the constitutional rights of the parents to direct the upbringing of their children. Perhaps this is the moral obligation and responsibility of the parents — to responsibly act whenever they share the lives of their children online. I am not saying that it is entirely wrong to share photos of children online. I must admit that I am guilty as well every time I post photos of my adorable twin nieces and nephew in Instagram and Facebook. While sharing things that matter to us online, including kids that give us so much joy, is becoming a way of life, we must know when sharenting or sharing is too much to the point of exploiting them. We should examine our intent and the content of our posts before we share information about them; and ask ourselves whether this is something my child would want to see when he or she grows up and whether this is something that will foster healthy child development.
In this digital age, it is not only the children who should be taught how to use social media responsibly. Parents, too, must be taught of the dangers of oversharing and sharenting and the value of privacy.
that a child experiences is through his family and it is his own family where he should learn the value and importance of privacy. Creating a culture of privacy requires changing one’s mindset. If we want to create a nation that values privacy, we must start in our own households. We must instill on our children the value of privacy and be forefront in protecting their right to privacy.