The unremitting pride that parents possess for their children must be cherished. It should even be celebrated. It is this pride that often persuades parents to post and share everything about their children literally from the day their children are born, often even earlier. This is called sharenting, which is formally defined by Collins Dictionary as, “the habitual use of social media to share news, and images of one’s children.”
The word sharenting is a blend of the words sharing and parenting. A research study conducted by The Parent Zone, involving 2000 UK parents in 2016 revealed that by the time the average child is five years old, internet parents will post about 1,000 images of them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. That’s just about 1 picture posted every other day.
We are inadvertently building a online accessible database of your child’s history. Think of a puzzle: In picture and in words, we share the nickname of our precious kids not knowing the harm we can cause. We upload pictures of our siblings replete with identifying features which fill in vital parts of the puzzle gratifying even the laziest paedophile. We offer school name, school uniform, school street name, sometimes a jackpot picture of home, geolocations, checking sites plotting our habits and movements, photograph with captions that provide nicknames of children and finally the names of pets that could provide someone with a persuasive connection to your child either in the park or the shopping mall. Paedophile hunt 30-40 kids at a time, and they hunt all the time.
The kids will appreciate this sharenting when they grow. Right? They will laugh along with you and the with internet mob saying “How cute was I?” Right? Wrong. The answer is maybe! I learnt this surprising fact while researching the posting of pictures. It turns out that at least two youngsters have sued their parents for posting “disturbing” pictures of their youth. A young Aussie lady, accused her folk of violating her privacy. “They had no shame and no limits…they didn’t care if I was sitting on the toilet or lying naked in the cot, every moment was photographed and made public.” She has demanded that her parents remove her pictures from the internet.
On the other side of the world, 13-year-old American lad Darren Randall is suing his parents for 350 000 USD for posting embarrassing baby pictures of him to social media for over a decade. “I had no say in my image being on the internet and now that I’m getting older these old pictures are ruining my reputation.” Why so much? “It’s a small price to pay for a decade of humiliation.”
Parents, this brings the issue of consent. Ask yourself, what type of information would your children want to see about themselves online at a later date?” And not sue you!
What I am suggesting is that pleasures and pride of sharenting does not mitigate the potential injury they could cause. The internet is far from being an separate medium where different rules apply because it is part of real life and needs to be actively policed. We are afraid of strangers, strangers with sweets yet we share every detail about our child? The physical world is constantly colliding and colluding with the virtual world. The difference is that the Internet never forgets and it amplifies all our mistakes and humiliation.
Sharenting is a bit like drinking alcohol, drinking too much places you in that ackward category whereas in moderation invokes pride and admiration. Decide on a photo share limit and try to adhere to it. Don’t ever post a picture of the child of a friend or acquaintance without their explicit permission. This is very important and may well have legal consequences.
Nobody will fault a parent if they sharent less. The old adage “less is so much more” applies even more in the age of the Internet.
Dr Colin Thakur is a digital activist who is committed to the dream of “one person, one connected device.” He is the KZN e-Skills CoLab Director, located at the Durban University of Technology. His areas of research include e-democracy, Social media, and unstructured big data.