Monday 22 January 2018

Are we destroying our children's privacy by sharing online?

Think about the digital footprint that you are creating for your child before posting that family video.

Joanna Fortune

Joanna Fortune

We have all seen videos online of little children doing something adorable or funny. Just the other day I was scrolling through my timeline on social media when I decided to count how many times a particular video of a little girl who was distressed when she learned that her brother would not stay a baby, appeared.

The answer was no less than 36 times, and none of the people sharing on my timeline actually knew this child or her family. They had access to it and were able to share, like, comment, retweet and favourite it because this video had gone viral after the parents had originally posted it.

I wondered how this little girl would feel about this when she grows up.

Channel 4's Data Baby Project is examining how companies track your digital footprint online and how they use that information to target products at you. As part of this project they attended Sweden's biggest festival Way out West, which also happens to be one of their most digitally engaged festivals.

They spoke to Swedes attending this festival about how they felt about online privacy. What struck me about this research, given Sweden is the world's third most switched-on country, was that 70pc of those polled (both parents and non-parents) said they would not post pictures of their children online if the child was too young to express an opinion or provide informed consent.

Is there a cultural difference in how different countries engage online? I strongly believe there is. Is there a generational component to how we engage online? Absolutely, though usually we tend to focus on what teens are doing wrong online and how lucky our generation is that we negotiated our adolescence pre smart phones.

Joanna Fortune
Joanna Fortune
Viral: Little girl cries because she doesn't want her baby brother to grow up

However, my work with teens has shown me that that age group are also highly critical of how parents behave online, particularly when it comes to photos and videos of their children. The teens I speak with thought a lot of parents would benefit from being "schooled" about what they post online.

I deliver school talks to secondary school students on a range of topics including youth mental health and how to stay safe online, and I tell them to be careful what videos they post of themselves and others online and to always seek the consent of others before they post a video.

They have often responded asking why is it that parents are not subject to these same guidelines regarding their children's images?

When I asked the teenagers I spoke with how they would feel if they discovered intimate childhood moments had been shared by their parents online, most were appalled at the thought and said they would hate it. They felt that it was "creepy" that anyone might see their baby photos or family videos and were quite indignant that this would be done without their consent.

They spoke about how that photo or video could end up anywhere online. A number of them had personal experience of their photos being reposted to other sites, including porn sites, without their consent and compared this to what could happen to photos posted of children. One 15-year-old girl remarked that once an image has gone viral it could be used by anyone anywhere in the world.


How to be concious of keeping your children safe

With family and friends living overseas, sharing images of your children online can be a great way to keep your entire network engaged and up-to-date on your family life. And you can do that, but be clever about it.

• Most social networking sites have private sharing options, so set up a private family album and hand-select the people who can view or have access to it

• Familiarise yourself with the terms and conditions of the individual platform you are using/posting on

• Think before your post, it may be embarrassing in a cute way now, but when your child is older will this digital tattoo you are creating just be plain embarrassing to them?

• Avoid posting pictures that give identifying information such as a school crest, geo-tagging where you post from etc.

We are expecting young people to behave responsibly online but in order for them to do this we adults must lead by healthy, socially conscious and future aware example.

Be aware of your own digital footprint and be more aware of the one you are creating on behalf of your child.

Joanna Fortune is Director of Solamh Parent Child
Relationship Clinic.

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