Allow me to pose a question; would you take your eyes off your child at the local park, turn your back on them and allow strangers to interact with them without monitoring them or filtering who has access to your child? Of course you wouldn’t, but every day parents are disseminating images and videos of their children across social media without actively filtering who has access to such material.
We are seeing more and more Instagram and Facebook pages for children as young as 3 months old popping up on our news feeds with no security settings. Parents uploading more and more family moments without the most basic of filtering or safety measures. A recent study by Nominet, which handles the UK’s .uk domain name registry, found parents post nearly 200 photos of their under-fives online every year without any security settings set on their social media accounts.
Australia’s National Children Commissioner Megan Mitchell urges parents to be cautious when posting “cute” photos of their babies on social media platforms if they are unaware of the security settings. She cited a recent example of an Australian man who posted a picture of his naked toddler in the bath on Facebook. He was unaware that his Facebook security settings were not limited and could be accessed by anyone, later discovering his photo was liked by over 3000 strangers.
There has been some movement towards regulating such activity; this year the French Government warned parents to stop posting images of their young children on social media networks. Under France’s rigorous new privacy laws, parents could face fines of over $65,000 Australian dollars if convicted of publicising private details of their children without verbal consent of the child involved.
Dr Myra Hamilton, research fellow at the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW says that the issue of consent when it comes to posting photos of very young children is particularly concerning. “Toddlers and babies raise particularly salient issues because they are not able to give consent for their photos to be published online,” she says. Digital DNA or digital footprint are not easily erased, including every image and every comment posted of babies and toddlers online without appropriate security settings.
There is some evidence that there is a difference between what children and parents see as appropriate in relation to consent. The University of Michigan asked children and parents to describe the rules they thought were fair relating to technology. Adults answered with rather strong views and thoughts on appropriate screen time whereas children under 5 said their parents should not post anything online without asking them. They felt they were lacking any control in their own privacy.
Social media demands balancing risk with opportunity. Children’s safety in social media is vital and more work will undoubtedly need to be done to advance the child’s digital rights. Without appropriate safeguards needed to participate and exercise rights, children can neither take advantage of the opportunities digital media afford nor develop resiliency when facing risks.
As children learn to think critically and develop their own language, views, strategies, associations and interests as users of connected digital media, parents undoubtedly need to make this a safe space by learning and implementing appropriate security settings.
Written by Kate Montiglio
Kate Montiglio is a mother of 2 children aged 15 and 11 and based in Newcastle, New South Wales. A professionally trained classical ballet dancer and preschool ballet teacher for over 14 years Kate enjoys impromptu dance class with her students and is currently studying children’s yoga. A keen reader and student of modern pedagogical development in the digital age she has a strong interest in appropriate screen time, appropriate out door exploring nature, child driven play and the digital rights of the child. Kate is in her final year of Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood at Swinburne University Of Technology and is planning to further her studies and complete her Master’s Degree. Kate is also in the early stages of applying to open her own family day care.