I remember some time ago, I put myself in the shoes of a child and asked a question on the Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana (IIPGH) Premium WhatsApp Platform, “If I grow up, can I sue my parents for posting my childhood days pictures without my consent?”. Silly question?
Some members on the platform laughed at it and brushed it off, but some also found the question intriguing. One member, for example, gave a befitting response: “Well, I will also take you to court and ask you to pay all the expenses I’ve made for you since you were born.”
And my answer to that, as usual, was: “Did I ask you to give birth to me?”
Just when I thought I had nailed the argument, he came back strongly with a knockdown answer: “The semen I produced contained about 100 million sperms. Why did you rush to fertilize the egg first?”
I did not have any answer, and the conversation ended that way.
But is it a useless question to think our children will grow to question things we posted about them on social media platforms when they were young?
Let me frame it this way: Will our children grow up and be happy with all the things we have posted about them on social media? Now we even start posting about them before they are born or immediately after they are born.
This practice of parents sharing information, photos, and videos of their children on social media is called Sharenting. According to Wikipedia, the origin of the term “sharenting” has been attributed to the Wall Street Journal. It is a portmanteau of “oversharing” and “parenting.”
Is it a good thing to do?
Well, sharenting is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, sharenting can be a way for parents to connect with others sharing the joys and challenges of parenthood, and also share milestones and memorable moments of the child with friends and families who may live far away. It can provide a sense of community and support. It is also a means to create a digital footprint for the child, something most of us do not have because we were born when there was no Internet.
On the other hand, sharenting can also raise concerns about privacy and security. Once something is posted on the Internet, it is difficult to control who sees it and how it is used. So, the digital footprint remains forever, and this can come back to haunt us. This puts them at risk of cyberbullying or other forms of harassment online. Sharing too much information about children can also have long-term consequences for their privacy and reputation.
What are the consequences of this? As stated above, there are safety and privacy issues here.
Below is what ChatGPT, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool, has to say about sharenting, in terms of safety and privacy.
One of the biggest concerns with Sharenting is privacy. Posting photos and updates about children can expose them to potential predators, or even identity theft.
The ChatGPT also talked about the issue I raised earlier. Whether the child will be happy with that when he or she grows up.
Below is what it said.
Another concern is that children may not be comfortable with their parents sharing their photos and updates about them. Parents need to respect their children’s wishes and not post anything without their permission.
Wikipedia describes Sharenting as the practice of parents publicizing sensitive content about their children on internet platforms. It mentions concerns over the potential social motivations for sharenting and legal frameworks to balance child privacy with this parental practice.
With newborn children, how do you even seek their permission?
Now, what happens if the child grows up and uses his/her date of birth as another layer of security for the online systems s/he will use? The parent has already denied him/her that. Or if s/he grows up and is an undercover journalist, how is he going to hide his face from the public?
Aside from the security and privacy concerns, one other problem with sharenting, is targeted marketing. This information we put out there is a gold mine for companies that provide products that are meant for children. Once they know you have a baby, they can target you with things relating to children or things that target the lactating mother.
Also, this information we put out there serves as a gold mine for bad guys. Kidnappers, for example, can have an encounter with your child years later and may tell him or her lots of information that will let the child believe they are real.
Finally, we are making a lot of data available to systems we do not know. There are a lot of systems that gather specific images online to train models. This can come back and hurt our children in ways we cannot imagine now.
So, how do we go about this? How do we balance it? How do we share our children’s accomplishments without putting them in danger someday? Which information should we share, and which one should we keep secret?
Once again, ChatGPT has advice for us, the advice I agree with, that is “responsible parenting”.
Parents should make sure to only post photos and updates that they are comfortable with and that their children are/will be comfortable with. It is also important to be aware of the privacy settings on social media. Many platforms have settings that allow users to control who can see their posts, and parents should take advantage of these settings to ensure their children’s privacy.
Let us take advantage of the settings on those platforms so that at least the things we share are not seen by the entire world.
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Author: Kaunda Ibn Ahmed (Online President) | Communications Team Member, Institute of ICT Professionals Ghana, Communications Team.
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