Our children are our pride and joy and more than anything, we want to let the world know about every funny face and milestone. Sure, there are dangerous people on the Internet, but they’re far far away and only want certain types of photos, right? Sadly, many parents proudly share their children’s photos publicly online and are shocked to find out too late about the dangers of doing so.
People often ask why I usually only share photos of my children with a very small number of online people, on social media accounts that are well locked down. Sadly, I’ve had far too many discussions with every day people who’ve had their children’s photos used or shared in ways they didn’t expect. Here are just a few of the most common scenarios that I come across, involving children and even young teens:
1. Starting as early as pregnancy, photos are not necessarily safe from online theft. Pregnancy porn is a big fetish industry and it’s not uncommon for bikini clad or “artfully nude” pregnancy photos to appear on fetish accounts on sites such as Twitter and Tumblr or even on pornographic websites.
2. Mentally unstable people, trolls and pedophiles often steal photos to claim as their own. Whether it’s an Instagram sex game account or being used on a pedophile Facebook page, there are endless places your child’s photo can end up without your knowledge. There are also more than a few mentally unstable women who steal and use photos either because they’ve lost children of their own or to seek attention. When adult photos are stolen in this way, it’s known as catfishing but it’s just as scary and violating when it happens to a child, if not more so.
3. Antanika learned the hard way about how easy it was for treasured personal photos to end up in the wrong place:
4. If you or your family are ever in the media (for instance after a tragic event), many non ethical media groups consider it a grey area to use any photo or status update they can see on your social media profile, no matter how personal they are. It’s quicker to steal pictures for a breaking story than ask permission and anything from a public photo to a public Facebok post can become media fodder.
5. Although parents are quick to judge anyone who shares a photo of a child in postures or outfits that are too provocative, research shows that those photos aren’t necessarily the most attractive to pedophiles. Clothed photos are easier to share, especially on public forums such as Facebook. A huge number of innocent photos of prepubescent children on the beach or in everyday photos wind up on Facebook pages set up for this exact reason. Since all the child photos shared on these pages wear appropriate amounts of clothing, Facebook has no legal reason to remove them.
6. Photos can go viral and remain on the Internet for years, especially if they are turned into memes. Photos distributed in forums or underground groups can also pass through many posts and emails, becoming impossible to trace or stop. In one case, a mother found her down syndrome child’s photo stolen by a stock photo site and then used by a medical corporation as a cautionary tale to advertise prenatal testing. It’s also very common for infants who appear sick or in a hospital bed to appear in hoaxes or messages by activists, asking for shares, donations or as a warning against certain procedures or medications.
Whether it’s a public post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or a parenting forum, there are always risks that the wrong people will see your children’s photos and use them inappropriately. Even some parenting bloggers are now choosing to no longer share full photos of their children. Although there are risks to posting photos of your family anywhere online, those risks multiply exponentially if you don’t have your social media accounts and blog locked down and carefully vet anyone who may see your shared photos. Be safe. Protect your children’s online reputation before they’re old enough to learn how to protect it themselves.