Family law

Are You “Sharenting” Or Parenting Your Kids: The Lack Of Protection Of Child’s Privacy By Parents On Social Media

Have you ever been embarrassed by something your parent said about you to a close friend of hers or a family member? It could be she needed advice or direction on how best to handle a troubling situation she was having with you and someway it ended up being used to taunt you by others. This act was done by word of mouth in previous years. It was communicated to women in associations or groups and these women, in turn, leaked the information to anyone they came in contact with.

Now we have the internet and the sharing of the same thing is done online not anonymously by parents. We have mommy bloggers and family vlogs going as far as chronicling every step of their child(ren) childhood for strangers online to read with unlimited photos at an age where a child can barely see or say his/her first words like “ta ta”.

The child grows up unaware of his/her presence online. Their grown self seeing images and content of themselves all over the internet, even used as memes at an age where they could barely consent or approve to such information being posted on the internet for the public view.

Granted most mommy bloggers and family vloggers see this as a way to connect and share their parenting experience, but should this be done by commodifying and sacrificing the child(ren) privacy at a very young age? At an age where they solely rely on their parents for guidance and protection.  Would you see such an act as a good behaviour of a loving parent that had your best interest at heart with every click and view from internet users?

This is the dilemma modern parents are going through today on how to balance their right to publish content about their children and the children’s right to privacy.

Sharenting is described as the oversharing of personal information of a child by parents digitally.1 Section 6501(8) of the United States Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) gives the meaning of personal information while Article 1.3(xix) of Nigeria’s Data Protection Regulation(NDPR), 2019 defines personal data as any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person that is capable of identifying them directly or indirectly.2 Parents see sharenting as a way of connecting with people online and sharing family experiences especially first-time moms and parents of kids with disabilities and special needs.

Research shows at age 5, the average kid has about 1,500 photos of them online and about 90% of kids by age 2 in the United States start their digital footprint at conception. 1/3rd of moms ages 18-34 years created social media accounts for their babies before their first birthday.3

This trend has made fame be embraced as the No.1 goal of kids ages 10-12yrs because many aspire to be YouTube stars, Influencers, or Comedians.4

Research has also shown that by 2030, “sharenting” could amount to 7million incidents of identity theft and over $800 million in online fraud. More than 140,000 children are victims of identity theft each year.5

According to France’s Privacy Laws, anyone who shares the private details of others can be sued. Parents have a right to post about their lives online, such posts are not limited to birthday or vacation photos and some earn a living posting family content online. Still, Children do have a right to privacy.

It has been noticed that advertisers and spammers purchase the data created by every interaction on social media to profile users then target ads to users based on these personal data points to influence their perceptions. Millions of social media photos have been on child exploitation sharing sites.

Our privacy laws do not specifically provide protection for these acts like the EU’s GDPR that gives one the right to be forgotten. This right enables one to hide unpleasant or certain damaging information on google search results. In France, children sue their parents for lack of consent before posting an image or content of them online, the penalty is a one-year jail term or £45,000.

The big question asked by a conflicted new mum on YouTube on sharenting was did the child consent to his/her personal information or activities to be used as content on the internet and if even though she felt her child may have wanted it documented online, she chose not to do so until the child is old enough to understand and consent to it. If we are being honest, such a child hasn’t consented to anything because they lack the capacity to do so. Now, do you go forward exploiting this lack of consent or inability to consent to your advantage with the hope that you have the child’s best interest at heart?

A little girl during an interview said “it is hypocritical for parents to warn us not do something they are guilty of doing themselves”. What yardstick will you use to teach your child body autonomy and consent when you as the caregiver shouldered with the burden to protect the child is violating their privacy rights before they are even able to see, speak, perceive or understand things appropriately. A Sharenting lawyer expert, Stacy Steinberg, said, “If we show children we value their privacy, there will likely value the privacy of others going forward”.

The dangers of oversharing a child information online includes exposing the child to:

* Digital Kidnapping. Posing another child’s as yours online. A good example is the case of a popular actress Halima Abubakar, a situation that would have been avoided if the child’s hand was not uploaded on the internet in the first place by the mother.

*Identity Theft, stealing the personal information and identity of a child to use illegally. Some go as far as creating an account in the child’s name.

*Cyber Stalking, A mum realized her social media platform was followed by pedophiles, and a video she uploaded on how to change her baby’s diaper had the highest views. She realized the views of about 40% were pedophiles by observing her demographics and when she took down the video and refused posting such content her views reduced drastically.

*Cyber Harassment, an avenue to open up a child to be trolled on the internet by strangers.

*Cyber Bullying, threats done online.

In Nigeria, there is no specific law that addresses the online privacy of children. However, Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, Section 8 of the Child’s Right Act, Article 10 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child makes provision for children’s right to privacy. The Cyber Crime (Prohibition and Prevention) Act, 2015 is the law that criminalizes cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and other online child-related crimes. While the Act punishes consumption of such content and provides for other offences, there is no specific legal guideline or direction to protect the online safety and privacy of the Nigerian child.6

A Dad University YouTube channel further pointed out the problems of Sharenting, Such as:

=>Body Image Issues, Sharents open their kids to public scrutiny of their looks and judgment by the number of reactions or views to such post makes it seem that views or likes or comments matter. This could be the reason why in France, an 18yr old child sued her parents for uploading an unflattering picture of her on the internet without her consent.

=>Digital Narcissism, posting something that a child did makes it look like your self-worth comes from your child’s accomplishment.

=>Safety Issues, the safety of a child is at greater risk when personal information or identity is known to the public.

Questions to ask: 7

1)Did I get my child’s consent to post?

2) Why am I posting? Of what value is the post to me?

3) Do you apply caution to what is posted?

4)Will my child be upset or embarrassed by the post later? How would you gauge your child’s feelings to posting an embarrassing moment captured & uploaded on the internet for public views or divulging negative things or tantrums of them?

5) Do you want this to be part of your child’s digital archive? Permanent content that could possibly affect them in any way in the future.

6)What will be your child’s reaction when they realize their whole life is already online?

7)How are you protecting the information of your children from being exploited by advertisers on social platforms?

8)What digital bread crumbs of your child are you leaving on the internet?

9)When last did you read the terms and conditions of the social platforms or digital product used?

10). What are your values and do the digital technology you sharent on promote such values?

11) Is your social media usage to the detriment of your children?

12)Are you conscious of what’s being posted on your children?

The advice to parents who still want to sharent responsibly by Child Privacy experts are:8

  1. Use privacy settings to share private content to close family & friends
  2. Don’t post in real time or tag your location
  3. Never include your child’s full name or birthday
  4. Images could be shared & copied on pedophilia website, just be mindful of that by setting a google alert for your children’s names to track where information about them appears. Go to google account, in your settings under google news you proceed to set a google alert.

I know parents have the urge to share important details with the public, in fact, a few have been honest and transparent about the motherhood or fatherhood journey for the likes of us who only get to hear the glorified version of childbirth and child care. So, it is quite commendable that somebody on the internet chooses to chronicle this experience for others to read, watch, take notes & lessons, unlearn and relearn certain things.

However, I think there should be a healthy balance between what is shown (that is letting others in and protecting the subject (the child). There are certain details not needed to be shared on the internet & you can go ahead to blur the child’s face or take pictures at angles making the child not easily recognizable to others. Hungry social platforms targeting children’s data on the internet & possibly creepy humans on the internet should be enough reason to protect your child’s online privacy.  Above all, most information is meant for a community of family and friends you know and can easily identify.

Can we deliberately choose to be parents and try to sharents responsibly? There is a rapid increase of sharenting and its alarming rate and the kids have no say in it. They are human beings with privacy rights we choose to ignore. Which do you prefer, your child as a grown-up asking why they are all over the internet for over sharing the child’s life on the internet or protecting your child’s privacy? Let’s keep children safe by not being lousy gatekeepers of their privacy both offline and online.

RESOURCES

  1. The Audiopedia,  What is SHARENTING? What does SHARENTING mean? SHARENTING meaning, definition & explanation, October 25, 2017 http://www.theaudiopedia.com accessed 10 November 2021.

2.  Data Protection and Privacy: A Child’s Rights, July 24, 2020, https://www.endcode.org/amp/data-protection-and-privacy-a-child-s-rights accessed 13 November 2021.

3. NBC News, Warning for parents who share too much, February 6, 2018, https://www.wilx.com/content/news/Warnings-for-parents-who-share-to-much-472937653.html accessed 12 November 2021.

4. Ibid

5. Richard Bornemann, Sharenting: How posting kids on social media can lead to identity theft 2021, February 20, 2021.

6. Ridwan Oloyede, Developing a child online privacy protection framework in Nigeria, November 29, 2018.

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=5509490a-b51d-4a66-8f8f-b57de3209acb  accessed 14 November, 2021.

7. First Coast News, “Sharenting”: Why you should think twice before posting about your children, February 9, 2021. Iryna Slabodchykava, Sharenting: How to Stop Damaging Your Child’s Privacy online https://www.google.com/amp/s/onerep.com/blog/sharenting-how-to-stop-damaging-your-childs-privacy-online/amp accessed 14 November, 2021.

8.  Thriving Development, Sharenting: 8 Ways to Map  Your Child’s Privacy Online and Personal Space on Social Media, February 15, 2021

https://medium.com/swlh/sharenting-8-ways-to-map-your-childs-privacy-and-personal-space-on-social-media-bdfa2fffd6eb   accessed 11 November, 2021.

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About Uduakobong Okon

She is an experienced legal practitioner with a demonstrated history of legal experience consultancy,drafting, business relationship agreements, advocacy and administration of legal service industry. she has a flair for writing, social doocumentaries and recently developed an interest in Intellectual Property and Cyber Security Law.