You took a great snapshot of your kid and want to post it online—but a niggling voice in the back of your mind is cautioning you that there are dangers involved. What should you do? What are the actual risks?
Whether you are posting pictures of your kids online or they have just reached an age at which they can do so themselves, there are legitimate problems with uploading pictures. According to one study, children who grow up with their pictures frequently shared online are disproportionately interested in becoming famous compared to any other life goal, because they learn from adults and their peers that posting images of themselves brings status, which turns into an all-consuming aspiration.
However, there is more at stake than your child becoming obsessed with her public persona.
Damaging Their Future
What you or your kids post online could eventually harm their academic and career opportunities. According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey from 2012, the number of institutions screening applicants through social media is on the rise:
27% use Google+ to learn more about prospective students
26% use Facebook to learn more about prospective students
35% found information on Google+ or Facebook that negatively impacted prospective students’ applications
Employers are even more likely to check online for any reason to reject job applicants. If you do not establish specific ground rules about what you and your child can post now, then problems might arise later.
Exposing Them to Bullying
Although many images will not impact their vocational future, what about their social life? Embarrassing photos, especially cute ones, can seem like harmless fun, but depending on who sees them, you can unintentionally open the door to bullying. Once you post something online, another person might pass it on, which can lead to the wrong people seeing it, and through that it can cause actual trauma for your child. The damage caused by cyberbullying alone can be extensive.
You can guard against this by always checking with your child to see if he is willing for you to upload what you intend to post, and by verifying later that he has not received any backlash. If he does not want an image posted, remember that he is concerned about how people will respond and that you do not want to hurt him by ignoring his wishes. If he is too young to know what you are doing, play it safe in his best interest—which definitely means no nude or semi-nude pictures of your baby, toddler, or child.
Running into Sexual Predators
Another horrifying result is the chance of pedophiles getting their hands on the images. Though bullying is more likely to directly impact your child, sexual predators are still on the prowl and are indiscriminate in their picture choices as well as how they will spread them abroad.
You may have cracked down on your own privacy settings before uploading images to social media, but if just one well-meaning family member shares a photo of your child, you lose control of where it goes and who sees it, especially if the relative posts it on any other site. What’s more, if you take a picture that contains a recognizable location, or proof of where your child attends school, you can accidentally betray where your child lives to predators.
Revealing Their Location
Landmarks, addresses, and schools are not the only way to discover location through an image: GPS-enabled phones integrate location tracking into your photos. Anyone who knows how to uncover that information has access to the coordinates of where you take photos. Always turn off the GPS function on your phone before taking and uploading snapshots, and also turn off the feature on social media that reveals your whereabouts when you post.
Opening Them to Identity Theft
You lose your absolute control of pictures once you post them. You cannot know for sure that no one else will find a way to steal the images and use them for unscrupulous means. They can be modified or used as-is for advertising, stock photos, promotion, sexualized content, or the creation of a fake profile to trick others. Any additional information, like your child’s full name and date or place of birth, will compound the problem.
When a picture is posted, there’s no taking it back. Deleting it does not remove all evidence of it from the internet, and strict privacy settings do not resolve all the dangers. You have to make sure that your child understands the long term impact that posting pictures can have, then show her the most prudent means to stay safe.
Never use your child’s real name. If you choose to allow some pictures online, protect his identity by using a screen name or nickname that will not relate to his birth name. The same is true of his birthday, address, phone number, and school.
Use hack-proof passwords. Avoid family names, birth dates, and plain dictionary words. Letter, symbol, and digit combinations are preferable, but shouldn’t be too short.
Revisit your privacy settings. Most sites offer customizable privacy settings, and you should make sure you know who you are allowing to see what.
Make sure you know your contacts. These days, having hundreds of Facebook friends is normal, but it isn’t safe if you share any personal information or images. Review your list of contacts to make sure you know and trust everyone there.
Disable GPS technology before taking pictures. Even some regular cameras have this technology, too, so make sure you know that you are not unintentionally tagging your images with tracking.
Check images for location clues. Logos, unique stores, street signs, and other hints can sneak into your shot, so make sure you blur out anything you don’t want a stranger to see.
Don’t embarrass your child. If you would not be happy to find that someone had shared the exact same picture or video of you at your child’s age, don’t do it to your kid. Make sure you respect her autonomy.
Protect your own. If any family members, friends, or acquaintances post images of your child that you don’t want up, ask them to take them down. You have the right to protect your child, and they should follow the rules you set for your own kid.
When you understand the risks, you can make the wisest decisions for how your family should post images online. Teaching your kids now can save them from enormous heartache in the future.