An article was recently published in the Fall 2017 edition of the Young Lawyers’ Division of the American Bar Association magazine. The entire magazine had a focus on various issues affecting children, but one article in particular addressed a seemingly simple issue which is especially important for people of all ages to consider. The article, titled Before You Share that Photo of Your Child: Privacy Considerations for Parents, authored by Nichole Sterling and Emily Fedeles, examined social media use in the context of posting photos and information about children. This topic is one that has been addressed frequently, as children gain access to social media sites, the internet and smart phones at younger and younger ages each year, but this article took the examination a step further and posed the question of how social media can affect even children who are too young to use social media for themselves, and the potential privacy risks posed by parents, relatives and other adults posting about infants, toddlers or other children.
The article first urged a common sense approach to all social media usage related to children of any age. It pointed out that, while certain privacy laws exist to protect children against posts or usage of social media material by third parties, these laws generally do not have much effect to protect children from what their parents or guardians may share. The article acknowledged the benefits of parents and adults posting about their children on social media – it helps keep friends and relatives informed and in the loop, even if they live far away, there are many forums in which posting fosters information sharing and education on a variety of issues, parents can meet other parents who face the same challenges and receive support from those communities, etc. However, even the most well-intentioned parents and adults can benefit from another perspective and additional information about the potential risks of some of their online activity related to children, and the article provided guidelines to ensure additional privacy measures are in place to protect the children who are subjects of these online posts.
Adults can, and should, be familiar with privacy policies of any sites they post to, including where those sites might share posts, pictures, or data. Setting one’s own personal privacy to high levels, such that only known family members and friends can view posts and photos, also helps protect against inappropriate or risky sharing. Parents or guardians can set up notifications to social media sites and alerts to let them know if their child’s name appears in a Google search result, so that they can monitor and take necessary action if a child’s information is shared publicly or improperly. Adults should be cautious about “tagging” or posting details about a child’s specific location at any time, and should limit the amount of personal identification information about their child that is made available on the internet. Posts on websites about specific topics, such as medical conditions or behavioral issues, might be better done anonymously, to avoid unwanted personal identification or embarrassment of the child or family. Before posting anything about a child, adults should think about what they intend to post, and the effect it may have on the child, not only in the immediate future, but in later years as well. Posts and photos that could embarrass a pre-teen or teenager if found later on should probably be reserved for family sharing only. If the child is old enough to weigh in on whether or not they are comfortable with the post, that conversation can be had, and used as a teaching moment for internet use and privacy with the child as well.
Social media and internet posting can be many things, both good and bad, but when it comes to children, it is everyone’s responsibility to take additional precautions to ensure the safety and privacy of the child. Even if that means foregoing “likes.”