Posting a life milestone, career announcement, or good time with friends on social media is what most of the major platforms are designed for. So it also follows that when one of the most monumental occasions of an adult’s life—having a child—happens, social media posting reaches an all-time high. Indeed, the practice has its own moniker: “sharenting”.
However, what some new parents don’t realise is that there are various ethical quandaries associated with posting photos of minors online. It’s a discussion that’s come into the fore more and more recently with the practice of posting higher than ever, as questions of privacy and online autonomy become more prominent. According to The Independent, “A new study says that by the time the average child is five, its parents have posted 1,500 images of him or her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like.”
Recently, an advice columnist in The Guardian wrote about her ambivalence when it comes to posting online: “Since their birth two years ago, I have put two photos of my kids on Facebook. One served as a birth notice; the second I posted in a moment of weakness at Christmas, and you can’t see either of the kids’ faces. Each time, I was reminded that no matter what your settings, Facebook isn’t private; it’s semi-private and these photos will never, ever be expunged. This is a generational squeamishness, perhaps – I’m 41, and to a 31-year-old, it mightn’t be a big deal. But it feels like a big deal to me.”
Privacy is one of the concerns that some parents and experts have when it comes to posting pictures of children on Facebook. While they may have good intentions—and even trust the intentions of those in their friend network—once a picture is posted online, it can take on a life of its own and be repurposed for nefarious means. In addition, while your three year old may not mind today that you’ve posted an adorable picture of them with spaghetti all over their face, they may have different feelings when that picture still exists on the internet in a decade. This was evidenced by a recent lawsuit from an 18 year old in Australia who wants the court to compel her parents to remove childhood photos of her from Facebook. She told one newspaper: “They knew no shame and no limits…they didn’t care if I was sitting on the toilet or lying naked in the cot, every moment was photographed and made public.”
If you’re a new parent weighing the pros and cons of posting your child on social media, here are some workarounds and hacks you can use to share your new parenting joy without violating your kid’s privacy:
- Be selective: It’s not that you should never post a photo again, but try and be more selective about the nature of the photos you post. For example, a family Christmas card depicting your little ones is unlikely to be repurposed by those with inappropriate intent. On the other hand, a photo of your little one at bath time or at the beach on their own might be. While it can be hard to think about, keep in mind that anyone can see photos you post somewhere on Facebook. All it takes is a screenshot.
- Use password protected accounts: If you’d like to share more photos and a more unvarnished take on your family life, consider making a password protected or private photostream. This can be done on Instagram, Flickr, or a shared cloud stream. This way, you can keep far-flung family and friends connected and know exactly who is looking at your photos.
- Think about your kids’ future: As the example above shows, not everyone is going to love having their most embarrassing moments following them in their digital life forever—regardless of how cute they are to you. Remember that baby pictures online are not the same as hard copies, which can be stashed in a drawer and kept private if needed. Once they’re online, they’re there forever. So remember that when you’re posting pictures of your kids.