As a writer in the parenting space, Sharon V., a mom of three, always had rules surrounding her children: she never shared their real names and very rarely published their photos. Because her stories grace the digital pages of widely read publications like The New York Times and Huffington Post, Sharon hoped to keep her kids safe from the exploitation that being in the public eye often brings.
But then it happened: a family photo Sharon had published alongside a story was stolen by an adoption agency and featured prominently on their website. As an adoptive mom herself, Sharon described the situation as a “personal violation” and was deeply distressed by it.
“When the photo didn’t come down in a timely fashion, I started looking for a lawyer,” Sharon said. “But people I spoke with said there wasn’t much to be done.” Finally, an attorney friend stepped in, and the issue was swiftly resolved.
“The Internet Is Not a Safe Place By Default”
Many victims of online photo theft aren’t so lucky. As Claire Rodahaver, a photographer and online photo safety advocate, explained, the social media boom has seen parents rushing to share images and personal details about their little ones in an effort to celebrate joy and connect with others. But exactly who is on the receiving end can be a problem.
Rodahaver shared that people comb child-themed hashtags and lift images from public Instagram accounts to use in online role-play, a practice in which users create fictional identities for stolen images of little ones. While some of these role-play communities operate under the belief that they’re doing no harm, almost any parent would agree that discovering your child’s image in someone else’s hands is deeply unsettling.
While some of these role-play communities operate under the belief that they’re doing no harm, almost any parent would agree that discovering your child’s image in someone else’s hands is deeply unsettling.
“The internet is not a safe place by default,” Rodahaver said. Just like we go to great lengths to safeguard our children offline, bringing them into our social media sphere requires a certain level of sensitivity, caution, and care.
The Devil Is in the Details
A study led by the British investment bank Barclays determined that by 2030, parents oversharing on social media will lead to two-thirds of identity fraud cases. Fareedah Shaheed, an online safety educator, explained that it’s the seemingly harmless details parents include in images and captions that may put kids in harms way—things like full government names, birth dates, place of birth, pets’ names, schools, and vacation spots.
“While some of [this] information seems innocuous, it can be used by hackers to sign up for services or benefits in your kid’s names,” Shaheed said. “They can even be used for identity theft, online scams, phishing, credit card fraud, and loan fraud.”
Tips for Mitigating Photo Sharing Risks
Still, Rodahaver insisted there are safe ways to share your family’s life online—and it all starts with knowing the risks and making a plan to mitigate them. Get started with these steps:
Check Your Privacy Settings
One of the best ways to protect the information you share is to lock down your privacy settings. Knowing who is on your friends list will help ensure your photos remain private. Still, Shaheed warned, anything can be screenshotted and shared.
Scrub Your Photos
“Anything you post online can be used to make a scam look more legitimate or even to gain information about where you live, where your kids go to school, or where you vacation,” Shaheed said. She encouraged parents to scrub images of any identifying details surrounding schools, hospitals, and teachers. If you must share a location-based image, she recommended hitting “post” once you’re safely back home.
Consider Your Audience
The thought of anyone’s children cropping up on child exploitation sites is stomach-churning, but Shaheed urged parents to keep this risk in mind. “As difficult as it is to imagine, many predators stalk parent pages for photos of kids,” she said. “Be careful about sharing nude or half-nude photos of your kids.”
Reframe Your Photos
There are plenty of ways to share a slice of your parenting experience without including your little one’s face. Play with photo cropping, snap images from behind, or zoom in on those adorable details like chubby fingers or wisps of baby hair.
Beef Up Security
Keep hackers at bay with strong passwords unique to each site and always enable two-factor authentication, Shaheed recommended. Sites like LastPass exist to keep passwords accessible to you but out of reach of hackers.
The Last Word
While there’s something beautiful about sharing your parenting experience with people around the world, living our lives online comes with its own risks. To keep little ones safe, do a social media audit, deleting images revealing identifying details and examining your privacy settings. As Shaheed reminded us, “The way the world is headed requires families to be online-safety savvy whether they like it or not. You and your family deserve to be safe online and offline.”