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EVER posted pic­tures of your sweet baby in the bath or moaned on so­cial me­dia about your im­pos­si­ble teenager tak­ing the car for a joyride? Shar­ent­ing’s not nec­es­sar­ily car­ing – and it could land you in trou­ble.

If you wouldn’t put it up on a bill­board on the N1 or M3, don’t put it up on so­cial me­dia. That’s the message to con­sumers of so­cial me­dia from Taryn Hin­ton, le­gal ad­viser and co-or­di­na­tor of Me­dia Mon­i­tor­ing Africa’s Re­port­ing on Chil­dren in the Me­dia course.

“Peo­ple seem to think there’s a dif­fer­ent set of rules that apply on­line. If you de­fame some­one on­line, it’s the same as in print but you are more likely to reach a far broader au­di­ence on Face­book, Instagram or Twit­ter. There’s no such thing as anonymity – you’re al­ways able to be tracked. Once it’s out there, it’s been seen and it can be shared, re­posted or screen-grabbed.”

In South Africa, 16 mil­lion peo­ple use Face­book, 7.7 mil­lion are on Twit­ter and 6.1 mil­lion are on LinkedIn, ac­cord­ing to the Or­nico SA So­cial Me­dia Land­scape re­port for 2018. By us­ing these plat­forms, these mil­lions of so­cial me­dia users un­know­ingly ex­pose them­selves to pos­si­ble law­suits.

Si­mon Col­man, ex­ec­u­tive head of dig­i­tal dis­tri­bu­tion at SHA Spe­cial­ist Un­der­writ­ers, warns: “In­creased us­age of so­cial me­dia plat­forms on mo­bile phones has fur­ther in­creased the ease of with which peo­ple can post to any so­cial me­dia plat­form. It sim­ply takes one, usu­ally un­in­ten­tion­ally, of­fen­sive post to spark an out­rage on so­cial me­dia plat­forms, which can lead to ma­jor defama­tion or in­va­sion of pri­vacy le­gal ac­tions.”

He says some of the most em­bar­rass­ing so­cial me­dia faux pas have hap­pened be­cause some­one took a screen grab of “pri­vate posts” and then cir­cu­lated it. “Closed” com­mu­nity and par­ent­ing groups, and pri­vate users with locked-down pri­vacy set­tings on Face­book, are also at risk.

“Just be­cause you’ve re­stricted ac­cess to friends and fam­ily, doesn’t mean they won’t pass on the info with­out per­mis­sion. If it’s pri­vate, don’t post it.”

The con­se­quences can be dev­as­tat­ing, ac­cord­ing to a re­port last year from Aus­tria in which a teenager was said to have sued her par­ents for post­ing over 500 of her child­hood pic­tures (which in­cluded ones of her get­ting her nappy changed and while potty trained), with­out con­sent, to Face­book, which she found hu­mil­i­at­ing.

The 18-year-old told an Aus­trian news­pa­per, The Lo­cal: “They knew no shame and no limit – and didn’t care whether it was a pic­ture of me sit­ting on the toi­let or ly­ing naked in my cot – ev­ery stage was pho­tographed and made pub­lic.”

The teenager had asked her par­ents to re­move the pho­tos, but they re­fused, be­liev­ing since they had taken them, they had the right to post them… to their more than 700 Face­book friends.

The case is the first of its kind in Aus­tria and while sub­se­quent re­ports have cast doubts on its ve­rac­ity, the risks of shar­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion on a pub­lic plat­form are be­com­ing more ap­par­ent. In France, it’s il­le­gal to post pic­tures of chil­dren on­line due to strict pri­vacy laws. Par­ents face fines of up to 45 000 (R740 898) and a year’s jail time for post­ing in­ti­mate pic­tures of their chil­dren, with­out per­mis­sion.

A re­cent Univer­sity of Michi­gan study found chil­dren aged 10 to 17 were “re­ally con­cerned” about how freely their par­ents shared their chil­dren’s lives on­line.

“I think we’re go­ing to get a back­lash in years to come from young peo­ple com­ing to re­alise that they’ve had their whole lives, from the day they were born, avail­able to so­cial me­dia,” Pro­fes­sor Ni­cola Whit­ton of Manchester Metropoli­tan Univer­sity told The New York Post.

“Par­ents have to work out what’s right for them, but be aware that this is an­other per­son, an­other hu­man be­ing, who may not thank them for it in 15 years to come.”

On­line shar­ing about par­ent­ing, also known as shar­ent­ing, is al­low­ing par­ents to shape their chil­dren’s dig­i­tal iden­tity long be­fore they’re able to open their first e-mail, noted Stacey B Stein­berg, a le­gal skills pro­fes­sor from the Univer­sity of Florida, in a pa­per ti­tled “Shar­ent­ing: Chil­dren’s Pri­vacy in the Age of So­cial Me­dia”.

“The dis­clo­sures par­ents make on­line are sure to fol­low their chil­dren into adult­hood. In­deed, so­cial me­dia and blog­ging have dra­mat­i­cally changed the land­scape fac­ing to­day’s chil­dren as they come of age.”

Col­man says par­ents need to ed­u­cate them­selves and their chil­dren that shar­ing is not al­ways car­ing. “It’s been de­scribed as a dig­i­tal tat­too. (Think about the) long-term im­pact of a so­cial me­dia rep­u­ta­tion. Kids are post­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tent of them­selves, not con­sid­er­ing the ram­i­fi­ca­tions on fu­ture re­la­tion­ships, job ap­pli­ca­tions etc.”

Peo­ple dis­close more about them­selves on­line than they are pre­pared to in per­son, Hin­ton says, cit­ing a Web Rangers cy­ber-bul­ly­ing study in Asia in which chil­dren who said deroga­tory things about some­one were asked to write those on a piece of pa­per and hand them per­son­ally to their tar­get. “At the end of the day, no one had done that. So if you’re not will­ing to do that in per­son, don’t do it on Face­book.”

To bor­row from the Las Ve­gas catch­phrase – what hap­pens in your pri­vate Face­book group, doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily stay on that group. So think be­fore you post em­bar­rass­ing pic­tures and anec­dotes. Hin­ton warns: “Just be­cause it’s true, doesn’t make it not defam­a­tory. You’re also putting your kids at risk. Peo­ple don’t re­alise that you can ac­cess the photo and find its lo­ca­tion – you’re putting them at phys­i­cal risk. If you put any­thing on­line that iden­ti­fies them, you put them at risk from pae­dophiles.”

Don’t ever put pic­tures of naked chil­dren on­line or “sexy” pic­tures of your child in a bikini or such be­cause you never know who the au­di­ence is on­line. Hin­ton warns Face­book’s set­tings are at their max­i­mum for chil­dren but as an adult user, when the so­cial net­work does up­dates, you might lose some of your set­tings and your posts would be avail­able for the world to see.

Ul­ti­mately, you’re the guardian of your chil­dren’s rep­u­ta­tions. “Par­ents are not al­ways ed­u­cated. They don’t re­alise their chil­dren could ac­cess their pro­files etc. If a par­ent is shar­ing that their kids are drink­ing, bunk­ing or do­ing some­thing else they shouldn’t, you don’t know who is see­ing it and they could be get­ting into trou­ble at school,” she says.

“There’s no anonymity. It can be linked to you. Once it starts, it’s hard to stop.”

‘Par­ents don’t re­alise they’re putting their kids at phys­i­cal risk’

 ?? PIC­TURE: PAUL SAKUMA/AP ?? OVEREXPOSE­D: If you wouldn’t put it on a bill­board on the N1 or M3, don’t put it on so­cial media where it can reach a broader au­di­ence and be shared, re­posted or screen-grabbed.
PIC­TURE: PAUL SAKUMA/AP OVEREXPOSE­D: If you wouldn’t put it on a bill­board on the N1 or M3, don’t put it on so­cial media where it can reach a broader au­di­ence and be shared, re­posted or screen-grabbed.
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