The safety and privacy of a child are the top priority for every parent–but many parents are unaware of the dangers of sharing photos and basic information about their children online. Excessively sharing children on social media has been so popular among parents that there is a term for this called “sharenting.” This is when parents and even family members of children overshare every detail of their kids lives on social media.
It’s so common for parents to excitedly share parts of their children’s lives on social media, that it’s estimated the average five-year-old already has 1,500 photos online (Bandara, 2023). Additionally, nearly 90% of children today will already have some form of social media presence by the time they reach the age of two (Muntingh, 2023). Sharing your children on social media can be a fun and easy way to update your friends and family, but many dangers come with posting your children on social media.
Why you should proceed with caution when sharing children’s photos online
Sharing anything on social media is not without its risks. Photo abuse is rampant and impacts the average person more than they may realize. “One of the most alarming findings is that while 22% of Americans are aware they’ve had images abused, nearly half of those surveyed know someone who has (49%). This underreporting issue speaks to our suspicion that there are many more people who have experienced this violation but are unaware of it,” says Cathy Pedrayes, online safety expert and National Chairperson for the grassroots consumer group Parents for Image Consent (P.I.C.).
If photo abuse is such a prevalent issue among adults online, we need to take careful consideration of how our children’s exposure on social media may impact them now and in the future. Sharenting can create a large digital footprint for your child, which can come with many negative effects they did not consent to such as a loss of their privacy, a sense of embarrassment, and more. Here are some of the risks associated with sharing photos of your children on social media:
- Photos can remain on the internet indefinitely: Once a photo makes its way onto the internet, it can be extremely difficult to remove or control how it's being used. After a photo has been shared, it can remain somewhere online even after it has been deleted. For instance, the photo could already be shared or saved by those who have access to your social media posts. Photo abuse is so rampant, that its misuse can occur within 10 seconds of sharing it online (Ohwovoriole, 2021).
- Financial scams and identity fraud risks: A huge concern for sharing photos of children online are identity theft and financial scams. If a photo contains any identifiable information on a child, a scammer can easily steal their identity and use it to their advantage. It’s estimated that by 2030, nearly two-thirds of identity fraud cases will be a direct result of “sharenting” on social media (Ohwovoriole, 2021). Another study revealed that over 1.25 million children were victims of identity theft in a single year, and more than 70% of these children knew the offender. Over half of the cases reported also involved children younger than nine years old (Business Wire, 2021).
- Physical harm and kidnapping: Unfortunately, sharing children on social media can even lead to physical harm and kidnapping in extreme cases. According to a recent report, the majority of child sex crimes began on social media (82%). The report also revealed that most abductors prefer social media as a way to access children due to its lower detection risks (Muntingh, 2023).
- Digital kidnapping: A relatively new phenomenon, digital kidnapping is when a person steals photos of your child and shares them as if they are the parent or guardian of the child. Sometimes the children of digital kidnapping keep parts of their identity intact, but oftentimes, digital kidnappers will change your child’s entire identity to align with the portrayal that they are the legal parents. This is especially dangerous, as it can expose your children to risks that are out of your control and cause confusion among strangers about who the real parents are (Juan, 2023).
How to protect your children’s safety and information online
Not sharing any photos or information of your child online is the only way to ensure they aren’t being misused. However, it’s unrealistic to expect the majority of parents to never post about their children online when so many people do and use it as a way to stay in touch with friends and family. Every parent will have their own ideas and boundaries on what they decide is safe to share on social media, but there are a few things every parent should consider avoiding when sharing photos and information of their children online.
- Avoid sharing identifiable information: When sharing photos of your children on social media, you’ll want to avoid posting anything with identifiable information. This could range from your child’s age, date of birth, grade, school, address, full name, schedule, or the location of their extracurricular activities for starters. If you wouldn’t share this information with a stranger in person, then you should probably avoid sharing it online.
- Adjust your privacy settings: Ensuring your privacy settings are on the strictest possible setting will help to restrict who has access to the content you share on social media. Some social media platforms also have settings that will allow you to set up notifications for when someone attempts to share or tag your photo. Once you’ve adjusted the privacy settings, make sure you discuss your boundaries with the people who have access to your social media posts. Discuss how you don’t want your children’s photos shared and remind them they need to get your permission before saving, sharing, or posting photos of your child. Similarly, don’t forget to ask other parents if they consent to you sharing photos of their children online. What you deem safe to share online may not be seen as such by other parents (Ohwovoriole, 2021).
- Shorten your friend and follower lists: Having a smaller friend or follower list on social media can go a long way in limiting who has access to your children’s photos and personal information. Take a look at who has access to your social media profiles and determine whether each person is someone you feel confident sharing content about your children with. Immediately remove any accounts of people you don’t know. Also, anybody whom you are unsure about or haven’t spoken to in years can likely be removed from your social media accounts. The shorter that list is, the safer your children’s photos and information will be.
- Turn off metadata in your camera settings: When taking a photo on your camera or phone, each photo will typically have metadata attached to it. Metadata contains information about the photo, including the date, time, and sometimes location. With this information, a person could easily trace your whereabouts. To turn this setting off, you’ll want to go to camera settings to switch off geotagging, which is what collects the metadata on photos. Every time your phone’s software updates you should check to ensure geotagging wasn’t turned back on by default (Ohwovoriole, 2021).
- Add a watermark to your children’s photos: Watermarking can be a great deterrent for photo theft as it displays the photo as owned and they can be difficult to remove. This way, you can always know if your photo circulates in a place you did not share it, the watermark will still be there. Although this won’t prevent photo abuse altogether, it does provide a layer of protection by creating a barrier for people who misuse photos. Many photo editing software services provide watermarking tools that are easy to learn and apply.
- Ask permission from your children on what they consent to be shared online: One of the worst feelings for some people is seeing a photo or video of themselves shared online in an unfavorable light without their consent. As adults, some of us already know this feeling all too well–so why would we subject children to learning that photos they did not consent to be shared online have been up for just about anyone to see? Especially when the risks of sharing photos of your children without their consent extend way beyond feelings of embarrassment. Our understanding of media literacy evolves every day, so while this may seem harmless now, sharing photos of them could have unforeseen complications later in life. As children grow, there are very few times when they get to feel in control of their lives–let this be one of them. Asking permission from your children to post photos of them can also be a great way to open up conversations about media literacy with your kids.
- Double-check every photo and get a second opinion: Posting photos on a whim can be a difficult habit to break, but taking a few extra minutes to analyze the content of the photo will be helpful to avoid sharing private information about your family online. Getting a second opinion from a trusted friend or family member can also help prevent confidential information from accidentally being shared on social media. A second pair of eyes can provide a fresh perspective and catch parts of an image that you didn’t realize was there, such as your child’s full name on an art project, or the name of their school in the background or displayed on the school uniforms (Ohwovoriole, 2021).
- Join the grassroots consumer group Parents for Image Consent (P.I.C.): During Halloween it’s estimated that billions of selfies will be posted by teenagers in the United States on social platforms, representing the busiest selfie posting period of the year. P.I.C. was created by parents concerned about the issue of image abuse, and the potential for the children to be victimized by it. The group seeks to alert parents to the issue and encourage them to work with their children to ensure that they post safe selfies during Halloween and other moments throughout the year. “Parents need to know that the hallowed tradition of trick or treating can quickly become an inadvertently scary moment for many families,” says Cathy Pedrayes, online safety expert and National Chairperson for P.I.C. “Image abuse affects 1 in 5 Americans and it’s important for parents to know where their kids’ selfies end up after they post them,” added Pedrayes.
- Monitor how your family’s photos are used with a service such as ImageShield: For most people, it’s impossible to track where all their photos are being used across the internet without additional help. ImageShield is a service that helps people protect the photographs and other images they share from being abused. By using a photo monitoring and protection service such as ImageShield, you can find out whether the photos you’ve shared on Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere are being used in a way they shouldn’t be.
Get your free ImageShield report today on the security of the photos you’ve shared on Facebook and Instagram. Visit our blogs for more information on media literacy and how to protect yourself and your family from photo abuse.
Bandara, P. (2023, July 18). Terrifying Ad Warns Parents Against Sharing Photos of Their Kids Online. PetaPixel. Retrieved September 15, 2023, from https://petapixel.com/2023/07/13/terrifying-ad-warns-parents-against-sharing-photos-of-their-kids-online/
Business Wire. (2021, December 2). Child Identity Fraud Costs Nearly $1 Billion Annually, According to a New Study From Javelin Strategy & Research. Retrieved September 18, 2023, from https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20211102005484/en/Child-Identity-Fraud-Costs-Nearly-1-Billion-Annually-According-to-a-New-Study-From-Javelin-Strategy-Research
Juan. (2023, January 9). 6 reasons you shouldn’t post photos of your kids online. ExpressVPN. Retrieved September 6, 2023, from https://www.expressvpn.com/blog/6-reasons-you-shouldnt-post-photos-of-your-kids-online/
Muntingh, L. (2023, February 20). Social Media Kidnapping Statistics. Screen & Reveal. Retrieved September 18, 2023, from https://screenandreveal.com/social-media-kidnapping-statistics/
Ohwovoriole, T. (2021, August 12). How to Safely Share Photos of Your Child on Social Media. Verywell Family. Retrieved September 6, 2023, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-to-safely-share-photos-of-your-kids-on-social-media-5191030
Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-kids-sitting-in-dark-room-and-looking-to-digital-pad-9786313/