Image: 'Beehive Head' by Josie Fraser
The post draws attention to a bunch of issues and decisions to be made about putting pictures of our kids online. As a parent, and also as someone who has the opportunity to talk to young people in the context of work about there own web practices and strategies for a great and safe experience of tech, the implications and impacts of posting children’s pictures publicly is something I’ve had to think about. So Coles post offers a neat starting point for looking at some of the strands.
Most information tech professionals have, by definition, a reasonably easy to find online presence – their non-anonymous blogging, networks, and service use are typically part of their professional as well as off-duty activities. We’re also used to belonging to communities of people we mostly like, who we perhaps know exclusively or primarily online. So it may seem like an obvious extension of that to post up pictures of our families, to model our everyday sense of our experience of ourselves online. There are probably a lot of parents who just don’t think about the implications of the whole world being able to check out their children’s pictures. So what are the issues?
Firstly, there’s thorny the issue of consent. Children aren’t recognised as being able to give conformed consent about a lot of things. If your child’s school, for instance, wanted to use a picture on their website, they would have to seek parental consent. Here are Surrey County Councils guidelines for using images of children. Some of these guidelines address legal issues and responsibilities; some additionally address equality and e-safety issues.
There are also ethical, or just straightforwardly thoughtful, considerations. My mum has a particularly embarrassing picture of me that haunted the whole of my childhood. As an adult, I’m ok with it (no, really). Thankfully my mum was mostly sensitive about my particular loathing of this picture and didn’t get it out at every available opportunity – if she’d have put it online I can imagine I would have been mortified. Maybe not at the time she put it up, but certainly a few years down the line, and especially if anyone from my school had come across it.
There's also the issue of digital presence. Is it up to us to contribute to our children’s digital presence? Would you have liked your parents contributing to what searches of you might return? As Scott comments on Flickr You:
“…they have no say in the matter, and yet you are making choices about their identity online, which impacts their identity far into the future. I think the issue of safety is real, but I also think you have an obligation to allow your children (and your wife) to create their own sense of self.”
The other obvious issues are internet related child abuse and bullying. I’m very much against a moral-panic approach to using technology, and I also think it’s very important that we evaluate and regard risks appropriately. While the vast majority of child abuse takes place entirely offline, and is typically perpetrated by the victims family or immediate circle, that’s also no reason to dismiss the chances of a child or young person we know coming into contact with someone who could harm them. We take steps to educate them about a range of strategies they can use to look out for themselves in their offline and online dealings. In the same way, we need to model good practice ourselves. I’d encourage my son not to put inappropriate pictures of himself online, including ones that could come back to haunt him, and to never put pictures of his friends online without express permission. I don’t want him posting and individual pictures that identify him by his name and by specific everyday locations, and I’d ask him to consider the information that someone could put together from the range of resources he puts out there, in the same way I’d ask him not to give his home address to complete strangers.