So, you got 300 likes on a photograph of the first day of school, with details of your child’s class, school and full name. Did you know, though, that your child’s personal moment is being used in presentations to reference consumers? Also, did you think about the time—years later—when your children might do a Google search and be upset at finding videos/photographs of themselves as babies?
Sharing pictures online is a unilateral call on your part; you are unlikely to have taken consent from your children.
I keep thinking of the term “digital footprint” when I come across endless feeds of such images on social media, reminding me of what historian and author Yuval Noah Harari told me when I interviewed him for his new book: Most decisions in the future, he said, would be made by Artificial Intelligence. So, you might want to be very careful about the kind of digital footprint you leave behind at every stage.
Three decades ago, would we have gone about posting a newspaper ad that tells people about our children, features their photographs, shares details of where they study and everything that’s happening in their world? Sounds weird, right? But that’s exactly what we are doing today in the intrusive world of social media.
A shocking 2018 report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner of England, Who Knows About Me?, revealed that by the time children turn 13, parents have posted roughly 1,300 images and videos of them online.
Think about it. Do you really want your child to be just a hashtag in the digital world? Are we creating easy fodder for digital paedophiles? Does the joy of sharing subsume the need to protect our children’s privacy?
Today, most celebrities, who are not new to the camera and paparazzi, are very clear about protecting their child’s privacy when posting online—some celeb parents refrain from posting online till the children and they are comfortable, a small number never get into sharenting, while yet others try to keep their child’s life as private as possible.
I believe everyone must seek the consent of the parent and the child before sharing anything online, whether it’s related to school, classes, educational institutions or fellow parents. Before posting pictures of your children and their friends at parties or playdates, shouldn’t we check with fellow parents if they are okay with it? As parents, are we talking to our children about online and offline consent?
When I founded the parenting platform Kidsstoppress.com in 2011, I had a firm rule (and still do)—to never post pictures of my children that reveal their identity or embarrass them. You may find their blurred profiles in some videos and posts, or notice them hiding behind their books. To protect their identity is the obvious choice but I also don’t want to leave digital footprints of my daughters crawling in diapers.
I learnt this along the way, to be honest. Being a naive new mom, I did perhaps upload one or two images early on, a decade or more ago, only to read about its perils—and how it was like feeding a perennially hungry monster.
A 2010 AVG AntiVirus? report found that in the US, more than 90% of two-year-olds and 80% of babies had an online presence. I keep reminding myself that I have signed up to be a public person with details I wish to share about myself online, but my children haven’t. I recently read that the richest person in the world is the one who has a private life. How true.
I have been to multiple events where my children were asked to pose and I politely declined. Over the years, my children too have learnt how to hide at the back, without revealing their identity. I have lost multiple campaigns because I didn’t share their pictures.
I don’t regret it one bit. And when I am asked why I don’t share my children’s pictures online, this is what I say:
I need to protect them: As someone who runs a brand on social media, I am well aware of its dark sides. From arm-chair criticism to judgmental hot takes, the world is ready to comment on our children (and their appearance and behaviour) just by watching them on a six-inch device. I don’t want my children to get sucked into the world of external validation; I understand all too well what it can do to them.
It creates an unnecessary impression on them: Users of social media leave no stone unturned to go “viral”. Right from milking every trending reel to mouthing famous dialogue, there is so much out there that’s buzzing. I remember the time everyone jumped on to this trending song, “Shut up and bend over” or “Touch it touch it”. Do we, and the children, even understand what these lyrics mean?
Here’s what I do instead: Use social protection and privacy tools. If you are, as a parent, tempted to share photographs, use the Instagram close friends option. You can also keep your profile private or create a closed friends group to share the images. Do not tag a location till you have left that place. Usual and repeated locations like residential areas and buildings should never be tagged. If you want to share children’s pictures during a holiday, shoot pictures from the back or take the side profile.
I know a lot of parents and digital creators who share pictures of their children online regularly. There is no right or wrong here and I am definitely not playing the moral police. All I am asking is for the fraternity to pause and think before jumping on to a trend.
We owe this to our children. We owe them their privacy.
Mansi Zaveri is the Mumbai-based founder and CEO of the parenting platform Kidsstoppress.com.