Online Safety

June 29, 2017

Sunscreen, bug spray, helmets. Vaccinations, car seats, booster seats. “Drink some water”, “slow down” “take a minute”…do these things sound familiar? If you have children or love a child you most likely protect your child in ways that come as so routine that you do not even think about it anymore. However, as a parent or as someone who loves a child-one area that you may feel a false sense of security with is your own social media account.

You may say, “oh, my settings are private and only my friends can see what I post!” If so, wonderful! That means you are well on your way to establishing safety for yourself and your child. However, it’s easy to get comfortable with privacy settings when our children could still be at risk (more on that at the end of the article).

First, to get an idea of how prevalent are pictures of our little beauties online we know that approximately 92% of 2-year-oldsin the US already have an online presence on their parents social media accounts (according to a survey conducted by AVG). The United States ranked highest with the most parents developing an online presence of their child when all countries were compared. So, with that said, we know pictures of our kids are online. What do we need to know as we consider this?

The first thing to consider before you post an image of a child is “how could this image be used if it falls into the wrong hands?” If you post an image online of your child, you lose control of who sees that picture and what they do with that image. I know this is horrible to think about but please understand this: a quick picture of your baby naked in the bath, a funny picture of your toddler potty training, a picture your child at the beach in a bathing suit-any image posted to a public site on a public page-you can lose control of.

Even if you think your photo is innocent, if a pedophile simply thinks your child’s face looks the way they want it to, they may Photoshop that image onto a another child’s body or Photoshop something more disturbing into

 the photograph. As soon as a pedophile sees an image they like, that photo will be used in disturbing ways. For example, a mother who had a blog about potty training her twins posted an image with their legs exposed.She later learned that the photo was downloaded, altered, and shared on a website commonly used by pedophiles. The problem isn’t the picture-the problem is the pedophile who can easily Photoshop anything in and out of your child’s picture.

Erin Cash, a detective with 12 years of experience working in law enforcement as a detective in pedophile and child abuses cases gives us some helpful things to consider when evaluating the pictures we have posted or posting new photos. Before uploading a photo, she recommends you ask yourself:

Is there enough room to ‘superimpose’ another figure into the image?
Are they in a state of undress (even with emoticons placed modestly – these can be removed and body parts can be photo shopped in).
Do you have a public social media page? Pedophiles can develop ‘child crushes’ and the child does not have to be posed or in a state of undress for the photo to become a commodity.
Sadly, an image does not even have to be used in a sexual way for it to become unsafe. Another danger that is important that you know about is “digital kidnapping”. Did you know there is a whole community online that likes to make stories about children role playing as if a child is their own? Some call this the older version of playing house. Just simply search for #childrp or #kidrp on your Twitter or Instagram account. You will see photos of children and role played dialogue. Much of it maybe or start as  “innocent fun” for many pre-teens or teens but the fact of the matter is that some of the images you may see have been stolen from parents who were just innocently posting a photo to an online account Back in 2015 Yahoo Parenting interviewed a Mom whose son was “digitally kidnapped”. She had a public blog and had posted a picture of her son. She was scrolling through her feed when she saw an image of her son on another woman’s profile and the strange woman was claiming her son as her own. Recalling seeing the image she says “She was pretending that he was her own and commenting on when was he going to start teething. Her friends were saying that they loved his hair. She was treating him as her own and that was the most petrifying thing. I didn’t know people did this.” Another Mom whose son was digitally kidnapped says “I got a comment on one of my [Instagram] pictures of Jack and it said ‘you need to put your account on private. Someone is stealing your photos.’”-she began to fear that the woman posting the photos would not only continue to steal his photos but also abduct him. Although clearly horrifying, stealing pictures off of someone’s site is not illegal. Therefore it’s important to make effort to protect your child.

Not ready to give up showing pictures of your child online? Don’t worry, there are ways you can still protect your child.

Read though the obnoxiously boring and long privacy agreement with the apps that you have. It’s important to be aware of how your pictures may be shared or how others may access your photos.
Check out is if your settings private on the apps and sites you use to share photos. During some updates, sometimes privacy settings can be changed and you would not even know or notice. It might be worth checking into again.
Ask yourself some questions: do you know who sees your pictures? Do you know all of your contacts? Are you sure your contacts are actually the people you think they are? Might any of your contacts innocently share an image of your child? Might anyone else have access to any of your friends’ sites (spouses, boyfriends, and friends)?
Consider limiting your audience of people that see your pictures to only people you trust. It’s easy to establish settings to limit who sees your photos.
Consider setting up a password protected site for sharing photos for your kids (dropbox, shutterfly, snapfish are three that come to mind for me).
Never use hashtags of your child’s full name and then tag your photos. Using that hashtag could allow someone to stalk your child more easily.
Never tag your child’s location in a photo. By doing so, you maybe letting someone know where your child frequents.
We as parents of course think the world of our children. We protect them while they navigate this world and they deserve our protection online too.

For more information on how to keep your child safe on your own social media sites, check out these websites:

PBS-Children and Media
NPR-Children’s Privacy
Pediatricians Thoughts on Posting Pictures of Your Child (Time Magazine)

NPR-Children’s Privacy
Pediatricians Thoughts on Posting Pictures of Your Child (Time Magazine)

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