Kids on display
Facebook, Twitpics, blogs - where and how would you post pictures of your children?
(Getty Images)
My sister e-mailed me a cute photo of my 3-year-old nephew on his potty with the comment: ‘I wanted to share this but I wasn’t comfortable putting it on Facebook.’ Why did she have reservations about putting yet another photo of her adorable child doing something sweet and ahhhh-worthy on a social networking site?

She’s got privacy settings that only allow her ‘friends’ to see her information, so what’s the harm?

The harm is she has allowed some third-party applications on Facebook-like building a family tree and letting people add her birthday to their lists. Pretty innocuous stuff, but third-party applications make a whole lot of your information available to a whole lot of people you have not accepted as ‘friends’. And just because you are very careful about accepting ‘friends’ does not mean all your ‘friends’ are as picky as you.

Many parents proudly post photos of their children in their school uniform on Facebook or MySpace with captions like ‘Little Johnny’s first day at school’. Now a whole lot of people know your child’s name, approximate age and where he goes to school. If they were so inclined, they could go to the school and pose as someone who knows him. Very unlikely, and paedophiles usually target children they know rather than trawling social networking sites looking for likely victims, but it is a possibility.

My teenage nieces have dozens of albums of photos of themselves and their friends on Facebook. They are beautiful young girls and in some of those photos they are wearing swimwear, pyjamas and shorts. All done in innocence but what happens when someone else downloads one of those pictures and manipulates the image?

Once you’ve posted an image it becomes public property and you have no control over how it is used. Just being tagged in a photo by someone else makes your image available. What if someone has a vendetta against one of the girls? They can easily show her in compromising positions and remove clothing with digital imaging software. Cyberbullying of this sort happens, even in South Africa. Remember the trauma experienced by a 14-year-old Johannesburg girl last year who became a victim of cyberbullying?

Like every parent I think my children are the most fabulous in the world. I’d really love to share pictures of them with my Facebook and blogger friends, but I don’t. And it’s not just because I’m wary of the remote possibility of paedophiles or cyberbullies but mostly because my children are adopted.

You might be wondering what on earth adoption has got to do with photos on social networking sites. Well, in non-disclosed adoptions, birth parents and adoptive parents have limited contact mediated through the social worker. They know each other’s first names and birth parents are sent photos of the children. And this is where the problem arises. Legally, birth parents may not have any contact with the children they have released for adoption until a child is 18 and then only if the child agrees to that contact and after a great deal of counselling on both sides.

Many social workers are using social networking sites as helpful tools to search for birthparents so you don’t need to be a super-sleuth to do so. If my children’s birthparents wanted to trace them on the internet it would be relatively easy given that they know what they look like, their ages and their first names. So I don’t post pictures of my children on Facebook or my blog and ask my friends and family to respect that and not post pictures of them either.

I keep the photos of my gorgeous children in old-fashioned physical albums, in photo frames and on the fridge. But I would need to invite you to my home to see them and I’m more comfortable with the security of that privacy setting.

How comfortable are you posting pictures on social media?

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