Think twice before posting that holiday snap

Ways to protect photos of children online

Tips on how to prevent innocent pictures of kids from ending up of child porn share sites.

School holidays are upon us in Melbourne. Parents are tugging rugged-up, rosy-cheeked kids into cinemas and play centres, setting up play dates and organising sleepovers. Family-friendly, city activities are on too. The ice slide near Crown Casino is good fun. And the ice-skating rink in Fed Square is always popular.

It's a winter wonderland out there, picture perfect. Around every corner is a photo opportunity, and, of course, the camera phones catch every one. The family photos, the quick-pics, the selfies; it's all happening. And where do all of these photos end up? In your newsfeed, of course.

Suddenly, tons of kids I don't know are smiling back at me from my computer screen. Some are children of people I'm friends with on Facebook, but some are just photos of random children I don't know at all.

School holidays means a news feed filled with photos of other people's children.
School holidays means a news feed filled with photos of other people's children. Photo: Getty Images

I'm no innocent. I'm a contributor as well. Like most parents, I, too, am chasing after my daughter's childhood with my iPhone. Its camera roll is 95 per cent full of photos of her. And yes, I post some of those photos on Facebook, though not publicly. Not usually.

Of course, there are serious risks to putting photos of our children out into the world via social media. The obvious one being that paedophiles use Facebook too. The thought of paedophiles pilfering our public photos on Facebook is disgusting enough, but even worse: what if one of those people took a liking to your particular child, the child you post photos of in her school uniform, in front of her school sign, or at her daycare, or the library, dance class or the pool. Is it really necessary to share this kind of information publicly, with strangers, on the Internet?

And what about the people who blatantly steal other people's photos on social media and claim them as their own? This happens too. People steal online photos of other people's lives – their vacations, their pets, and, popularly, their children. Digital kidnapping.

One woman found photos of her newborn baby on a stranger's Facebook page. The stranger claimed the child was her own and had fabricated an entire life around the baby.This sort of thing may be more common than we think. Another woman's story I came across described how she found photos of herself breastfeeding on a porn fetish site.

My own family had a recent experience with photos being lifted from my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages by a group of neo-Nazis in the US. The group photoshopped my own pictures and edited them in extremely derogatory ways. Then retweeted them. Fortunately, no images of my daughter were used, though she was referenced with a model: a monkey in a dress.

Which brings me to another level of this conversation. We have a unique responsibility to protect the physical as well as the digital safety of their children. We are custodians and curators of our child's digital adolescence. What we write about our children on Facebook, the photos we share of them on Instagram, and the social networking that we do for them without their approval or consent affects their futures.

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Not only are we creating a digital history for them, a chronicle that they have no part in narrating, and one that their future friends, enemies, educators and employers will have access to, but aren't we also running the risk of objectifying our children?

After all, are these photos of the child really for the child or for the parent? It's hard to dissect our own identities from our children's, especially when our children are young and completely dependent upon us. But a child is not a pet, or a prop, or an object to own.

A child, no matter what age, is still a person, and I wonder if we are treating these little people with the respect they deserve when we share personal information about them and photos of them that they might not like shared if they had the choice.

Are we dehumanising our children by taking the power of choice away form them and claiming their digital identities as part of our own? I was in Fed Square today with hundreds of other families. It was an idyllic winter's day. I'm sure we'll all being seeing it on Facebook tonight.

Aubrey Perry is a Melbourne based writer and artist