Sharing photos of your kids online? Here's what you should consider.May 9, 20233 min read
By Emma Richards
Today’s parents are the first to raise children alongside social media and in this era of likes, comments and shares, they must also decide when to post images of their children online and when to hold off to protect their privacy.
The practice of “sharenting” – parents posting images of their children on social media platforms — has drawn attention to the intersection between the rights of parents and the rights of their children in the online world. Stacey Steinberg, a professor in UF’s Levin College of Law, author and mother of three, says parents need to weigh the right to post their child’s milestones and accomplishments online against the right of a child to dictate their own digital footprint and maintain their privacy.
Steinberg, like many parents, avidly posted photographs of her children online to document their childhoods. When she left her job as a child welfare attorney to become a professor, Steinberg also began writing about her motherhood experiences. She also began rethinking posting about her children online, realizing that it could be doing more harm than good. And yet, there was little guidance for parents on to consider when posting images and how to do so with their children’s safety in mind.
Among the problematic issues: Machine learning and artificial intelligence allow for the collection of information about people from online posts but there is little control over or understanding of how that stored information is being used or how it will future impact on the next generation.
According to Steinberg, a Barclays study found that by the year 2030, nearly two-thirds of all identity theft cases will be related to sharenting. There are also concerns pedophiles may collect and save photographs of children shared online. For example, one article she reviewed reported that 50% of pedophile image-sharing sites had originated on family blogs and on social media.
Steinberg says parents should model appropriate social media behavior for their children, such as asking permission before taking and posting an image and staying present in the moment rather than living life through a lens or being fixated with what’s online.
“I think it’s a danger that we’re not staying in the moment, that we’re escaping to our newsfeed or that we’re constantly posting and seeing who’s liked our images and liked what we’ve said instead of focusing on real connections with the people in front of us,” Steinberg said in an episode of the From Florida Podcast.
While parents serve as the primary gatekeepers for children’s access to the online world, tech companies and policymakers also have roles to play in setting parameters and adopting law that protect children’s safety. Numerous European countries have already moved in this direction with such concepts as the “right to be forgotten,” which allows people to get information that is no longer relevant or is inaccurate removed to protect their name or reputation on platforms such as Google.
“The United States really would have a hard time creating a right to be forgotten because we have really strong free speech protections and we really value parental autonomy Steinberg said.
Google has, however, created a form that allows older kids to request that old photographs and content about them be removed from the internet, which Steinberg says is a promising step.
Steinberg would love to see other mechanisms adopted to minimize the amount of data that is collected about children and ensure artificial intelligence is used responsibly and ethically when collecting online data.
In the meantime, parents can proactively make online privacy issues a topic of discussion with their children and take proactive steps to limit their digital footprints, such as deleting old childhood photos.
“One thing that I really want to encourage families to do is not to fear the technology, but to try to learn about it,” Steinberg said.
Stacey Steinberg Director/Professor
Stacey Steinberg's research explores the intersection of a parent's right to share online and a child's interest in privacy.