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The Dangers of Sharenting: Protecting Children’s Privacy and Rights in the Digital Age

The term “sharenting” can be defined as the regular use of social media to share information or photographs of your children, with the rising prevalence of this phenomenon earning it an official place in the dictionary.

It may be hard to imagine that there was ever a time before social media. Before Facebook and Instagram, parents would lovingly capture photographs of their children, print the best ones, and curate them into albums or frames for the coffee table. Everchanging technology and the rising popularity of social media have made it easier for parents to record and share every precious milestone of their children’s lives, from the first ultrasound scan to the first day of school with the best intentions.

While this may seem like a harmless way for parents to share their joy and experiences, “sharenting” comes with its own set of legal implications, especially in South Africa.

What are the dangers of “sharenting”?

1. Privacy Concerns:

South African law places a lot of emphasis on the right to privacy, as enshrined in the Constitution. Sharing information and photographs of your children online may inadvertently violate the child’s right to privacy by exposing personal details.

Parents should be mindful of the potential consequences of sharing too much information, as it may have long-term implications for their children’s privacy. Companies may use images that were shared on social media for advertising without proper consent, this could violate a child’s right to dignity and privacy.

Usually, a person has a choice to create a social media profile and share accordingly, however, the same cannot be said about children. A child today may never even glance at a screen but still have a social media presence. It is important to remember that by its very nature, the online world is filled with people we do not know. A first-day-of-school photo contains personal information such as the child’s school and age, therefore it is important to consider the nature of the content you are sharing.

3. A child’s digital footprint

The first generation of children born in the Facebook era is already in their early 20s, and children born today will have the largest digital footprint in history.

If a person signs up to a social media platform, they agree to the platform’s terms and conditions. The terms and conditions might often state that the moment an image is uploaded onto the server of the platform, they are free to use it without consent. While the person posting the image will retain the copyright to the image, the platform whose servers host the image owns the license. This means that when a person posts an image on social platforms, that image is no longer exclusively theirs.

Another danger of “sharenting” is when a parent posts something on social media, they have no control over what happens to that information or images once they are on the internet. Even though parents may use privacy settings on their social media profiles, once they share images of their children, they have little ability to manage what people do with the photo.

4. Identity Theft

A study which was conducted by Barclays Bank in 2018 has estimated that by 2030, two-thirds of identity theft could be because of “sharenting”. “Sharenting” allows cybercriminals to easily figure out a child’s name, birthday, and location by looking at an image and its caption. When they combine the information that was shared about the child with other information gained through phishing or on the Dark Web through data breaches, they will be able to steal the identity of a child.

5. Online Harassment

“Sharenting” can expose children to the risk of online harassment and bullying. The law in South Africa addresses various forms of harassment, and parents should be aware of potential legal consequences if their children become victims of such activities. Read more about bullying in South African Schools here.

6. Child predators

Most parents know that online predators exist and therefore they avoid sharing images of their kids splashing in the bath as it can be screenshotted or downloaded and sent to anyone, if not properly protected.

Another potential consequence of “sharenting” is the exposure to child predators. Images and information that is shared can contain information that allows predators to track children. Geotags can allow people to track the child’s location and because parents do not have control over how far these images spread, it is impossible to know where they end up.

Conclusion

While “sharenting” can be a meaningful way for parents to connect with others and share the joys of parenthood, it is crucial to navigate this practice with a keen awareness of the dangers and legal implications.

We all want our kids to grow up using the internet and social media safely and responsibly, therefore it is crucial to understand the potential dangers while enjoying the fun side of it. Sharing proud parenting moments is a personal choice every parent has to make based on what works best for them and their family, however, we can all be smarter about what we share and how we share it.

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