For many, having a baby is an occasion to be celebrated. But does it need to be celebrated with every casual acquaintance and former coworker that you’ve friended on Facebook over the last decade?
The parenting overshare, or sharenting, that is sweeping social media isn’t just groan-worthy among those who don’t find a baby covered in mushy peas cute. It can also carry social consequences for the child, pose potential hazards to the family dynamic and could put the child in danger.
According to research from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, 92 per cent of two-year-olds in the U.S. have an online presence. But their hilarious missives and adorable mishaps aren’t the only things viewers are gleaning.
“When children appear in Facebook photos, 45.2 per cent of the posts also mention the child’s first name, and 6.2 per cent reference the child’s date of birth, allowing all viewers to establish the exact age of the child,” the study notes. “On Instagram, 63 per cent of parents reference their child’s first name in at least one photo in their stream, 27 per cent of parents reference their child’s date of birth, and 19 per cent share both pieces of information.”
For anyone with less than innocent intentions, a first name and access to the parent’s social media page is enough to determine information like a home address.
A study that examined over 150,000 reports sent to internet tip line Cybertip found that nearly 80 per cent of content involving child sexual abuse included children under 12. In January, the organization launched Project Arachnid, an automated web crawler that searches up to 300 pages per second looking for illegal content. A few months into the project, it located more than six million unique web pages with child sexual abuse content, Signy Arnason, director of Cyerbtip, told the National Post.
With nothing stopping friends and family members from sharing pictures of your children, and those pictures being accessible to everyone in their networks, there’s no knowing where they’ll end up or how they’ll be used.
“We can’t control what people share on social media,” Dr. Jillian Roberts, a psychologist and associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Victoria, said to Global News. “You can post something, but if your friends or family choose to share it, it’s in their network and a photo can very quickly go viral. You’ve put out sensitive information about your child to the larger ethernet and you’re opening yourself up to your child having unwanted attention.”
Aside from concerns about what a stranger could do with a photo of a child, Roberts says it’s important to bear in mind what an embarrassing photo can mean to a child 10 years down the line.
“Think about the Golden Rule: would you like to have an embarrassing photo of you posted without your permission? When you think about what you’re posting on behalf of your kids, ask yourself if it’s embarrassing or squeamish.”
READ MORE: How to teach your kids about online privacy
She also advises putting a social media policy in place — especially in the case of blended families where one parent might be more apt to sharent over the other — that addresses privacy controls and what constitutes an appropriate picture.
This is also an important opportunity for parents to lead by example, she said, because it involves setting the tone around boundaries, privacy, safety and what’s appropriate to share online.
There are undeniable positive aspects to social media, not the least of which is keeping in touch with people you might not otherwise see or speak to on a regular basis, Roberts said. And for those experiencing alienating challenges, like raising a child with special needs, it can provide a comforting and helpful forum.
“But there needs to be a balanced, mindful approach. You’d only want a complimentary photo of yourself posted, so do that for your child when they don’t have a say for themselves. It’s not worth it to post an embarrassing photo just for a cheap laugh.”