Is It Safe to Share Photos of Your Kids Online?
Experts weigh in on the do’s and don’ts
Scroll through any Facebook or Instagram feed and you’re guaranteed to come across photos posted by parents eager to share their child’s latest milestones and achievements. But does posting pictures of your kids via social media compromise their safety? It depends, say experts.
Photos that are unprotected and public can be viewed by anyone. “That means the same adorable picture of your child in the school play, going to the Junior Prom or sticking French-fries up his nose can be viewed by Grandma in Greenville and a stranger in Stratford,” says child and teen development specialist Robyn Silverman, Ph.D. “That might not seem like a big deal most of the time, but it can be a problem depending upon the nature of the photo or the intention of the stranger.”
One reason is that photos can reveal a lot more personal details than you realize — such as the name of an elementary school in the background or the sports or cheerleading team identifiable by your child’s uniform.
Revealing photos aside, research has shown very few pedophiles identify and physically harm children whose photos they come across online. But that doesn't mean you shouldn’t take precautions before posting pictures of your kids, says Larry Magid, co-director of ConnectSafely.org and founder of SafeKids.com.
Here’s how you can be smart about it.
1. Set privacy settings and share with a trusted group. Believe it or not, your children's online photos can be used without permission for advertising purposes, says Silverman. “I'm not saying this is legal, I'm just saying it can happen.” Most social networks have private sharing options for photographs. If you want to share photos, make sure you set up a private album so that only people whom you’ve chosen can see the images.
2. Be aware of who and what is in the picture. Avoid posting photos that give location information: Shut off "geo-tags" that tell where the photo was taken. Consider who else is in the picture, and get permission from the parents (and kids if they’re old enough) before posting. “We need to respect our children's privacy. And if the child later wants it taken down or untagged, respect that, too,” says Silverman.
3. Make sure the picture is tasteful. In the same way we tell our tweens and teens to be cautious when posting photos online, parents need to use the same discretion, says Silverman. Even if you’re posting to a private network, the photo should be one you’d be comfortable sharing publicly. Potentially embarrassing photos of your child in the bath, holding a sign that reads, "I’m being punished because I don't listen to my parents," or pretending to drink a beer at age seven can end up in wrong hands. “Half-naked photos of children potty-training can be shared on child pornography sites, and embarrassing photos can live on the Internet forever,” says Magid. He adds that these photos could come back to haunt your child when he’s applying to colleges or for a job. Embarrassing photos can also be fodder for teasing and even cyberbullying. “Parents need to think carefully before they post images of their children and think about whether it's right to tag them on social media,” he says.
4. Lower the resolution. If you are concerned with photos being used for advertising, lower the resolution and make it an unlikely choice, suggests Silverman. “You can also watermark your photos so that everyone knows they are not for public use.” Online sites like PicMarkr allow you to watermark a photo for free. Photo editing programs such as Photoshop also include a watermarking feature.
Tara Rummell Berson is a health and wellness writer and editor. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Redbook, WebMD and The Huffington Post.