‘Care when you share’- parents who post photographs on social media

During Privacy Awareness Week 2017, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is encouraging individuals to care about their privacy and to better inform themselves of what will or what might happen to their personal information before they share it online. There is also a concerted drive to educate adults, particularly parents and guardians, regarding how to safely share photographs of their children online or on social media accounts.

In recent months, ABC News has reported on a number of issues regarding privacy and parents posting images of their children on social media sites. In one article, it was noted that the French Government has warned parents to stop posting images of their children on social media networks. Under French law, parents could face penalties of up to one year in prison and a fine of €45,000 if they are convicted of publishing personal information about their children without their consent.  In this era of social media and technological advances, this French initiative could be an early warning for some parents regarding their propensity for using social media as a type of ‘family album’ for friends and relatives who reside across the country or overseas.

In Australia, children under the age of 18 years are not required under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)(the Act) to give consent to their parents sharing images (personal information) of them online.  But the legal position doesn’t mean that parents should disregard their own child’s wishes.

Julie Inman Grant, the Children’s eSafety Commissioner noted on the OAIC Website that: “like a lot of mums, I was excited about my children entering primary school this year. As with many parents, my first inclination will be to take a photo of them in their school uniforms, and to share this milestone with family and friends through social media. If you’re like me, with family overseas or far away, social media becomes the ‘global photo album for remote relatives.”  The Commissioner went on to point out the importance of educating parents regarding the implications of sharing photos online. The Commissioner noted the following five step by step tips for parents who would like, for example, to share photographs of their child’s first day at school online:

  1. Talk to your child about how you’d like to take a photo of them on their first day of term to mark the occasion, and explain how you’d like to share them with others.
  2. If they agree, take a photo. If they don’t agree, talk about why they don’t and what their concerns are.
  3. Once you have a photo, tell your child how, with whom and why you’d like to share their photo, and ask your child if it’s ok.
  4. Involve your child in the process of choosing which photos to share. Seek their advice about who they’d like to share it with and why.
  5. Post your back to school images with the #talkb4sharing hashtag to encourage others to have the conversation.

The issue of parents seeking their child’s consent was discussed in recent research by Hiniker et.al. from the University of Michigan which asked children and parents to describe the rules they thought their family should follow related to technology. Most ‘in-house’ rules related to on-screen time and social media use by the children. There was little regarding rules for parents.  However, three times as many children as parents noted that parents should not post anything online without asking them first.

It is one thing to post an image or a video of a child receiving an award or some positive achievement, yet how many parents post videos of their child having a tantrum or perhaps falling asleep in a high chair and making a mess of their dinner? It may all seem harmless and innocuous at the time but which images would have the greatest chance of going viral?

Generally, it is the image that would could be perceived by the child at a later date as being demeaning or embarrassing. Remember the footprint is there forever. If the child is old enough to be asked for consent and can understand what this means, then this could be argued to be part of the issue and part of the solution.

“Asking if your child likes the photos of them and whether you can put it up online can be a very quick and respectful conversation. It also sets up a great approach to your kids understanding digital etiquette.” The Telegraph (UK) reported that “earlier this year an 18-year-old woman in Austria successfully sued her parents for posting embarrassing baby photos of her on Facebook. The woman said she asked her parents to remove them, but they refused.”

The massive rise in the use of social media platforms (Facebook has been around for 14 years now) and the increasing use of other social media platforms, such as Instagram has resulted in thousands of images of children, usually by their parents/guardians, being uploaded online. Media reports and research indicate that many pictures are uploaded without the permission of the child. According to The Guardian, “a recent US study found that 63% of mums use Facebook; of these, 97% said they post pictures of their child; 89% post status updates about them, and 46% post videos”.

Of greater concern is that many parents do not consider that there is any possible harm associated with posting images of their child on social media sites. However, this article notes that some of the images could result in online bullying issues as the children get older or, worse than that, end up in the galleries of paedophiles. Kellie Britnell, a senior education adviser at the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner (OCEC) notes, “it was not uncommon for child pictures posted online, fully clothed or otherwise, to end up in the online hands of paedophiles.” Within the article, Ms Britnell was also quoted as saying; “the audience is wide and you don’t know who they are”. “In some ways, this is a new world and people just have not had the time to think about how they could be violating their child’s rights to privacy.”

Schools are forever reminding parents that although they believe that they have a right to take photographs and images of their own children at school, they have no right to take photographs or images of other people’s children and post the images online. This message should be continually reinforced through school policy and cultural convention.

The Office of the E-Safety Commissioner (OCEC) notes that when an event is occurring at a private place, people can enforce rules about photography. Therefore, non-government schools can ban photo taking on campus if they so choose.  The taking of photographs of children by parents may not necessarily breach any laws, however posting them online may not only be a social faux pas, as noted in the article, it may breach state or federal privacy laws.

Although certain parental practices such as posting images of other children on their social media sites are sometimes difficult to deal with, it is good practice for schools to have a current student and staff social media policy. A well written, well known and reinforced policy sends strong messages to the whole school community about the cultural expectations of the school and the rights of all individuals to have their privacy respected.

The OCEC notes that a social media policy should provide information on:

  • defining and setting out how your organisation will approach and manage social media;
  • what constitutes acceptable and non-acceptable use of social media;
  • the unacceptability of cyberbullying/harassment and the steps the organisation will take in response to incidents;
  • procedures for monitoring social media accounts;
  • use of organisation or school logos/IP or reference to a brand;
  • how the organisation trains staff in social media;
  • consequences of non-compliance; and
  • how the organisation will manage the sharing of photos and videos of children.

Social media policies should also include a mechanism to acknowledge and accept the terms of the policy. Does your social media policy tick all of these boxes?


About the author

Craig D’cruz 
is the National Education Consultant at CompliSpace. He can be contacted here.

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