Parents Are Increasingly Saying ‘No’ to Posting Photos of Their Children

Parents are contemplating "sharenting" and whether they should post pictures of their children online

A child’s online privacy has long been a concern for parents and guardians, and even law enforcement. It is a topic mired in debate, and it’s also an ever-changing technological landscape thanks to new AI tools. Wading into the complicated situation is freelance writer Hannah Nwoko in a new piece for The Guardian.

Concluding that “the ‘likes’ weren’t worth the risks,” Nwoko has gone from a “sharent” to a very private person who shares photos of her son directly with close friends and family.

What changed for Nwoko, who, as much as anyone, lives and breathes online communication and builds her career on the very idea of delivering information to strangers?

Parents are contemplating "sharenting" and whether they should post pictures of their children online

She happened upon the Child Rescue Coalition’s website, which has a campaign advocating for the privacy of children.

“At Child Rescue Coalition, our mission is to protect children from sexual exploitation. Research shows that by the age of two, 90 percent of children already have a presence on social media,” the organization’s website explains, while using terrifying words like “abuse,” “exploitation,” and “predators.”

These words would scare any parent, Nwoko included. So she did what any responsible person does, weighing pros and cons, finding more information, and being introspective.

“For the first time, I found myself asking: why am I sharing? Who are these photos for? And more importantly, who could they be reaching? Once those photos are posted online, it’s almost impossible to completely recall them (especially considering that screenshot and screen-recording features are now integrated aspects of modern tech),” Nwoko writes.

Parents are contemplating "sharenting" and whether they should post pictures of their children online

Governments Are Concerned, Too

A 2017 Ofcom report — Ofcom is the United Kingdom’s communications regulator — said that more than 40% of British parents shared photos of their kids online. More than half of those people did so at least once a month. The country’s Children’s Commissioner said the following year that parents shared about 100 photos and videos of their kids every year.

2017 and 2018 may not seem that long ago, but in terms of how social media usage has changed since then, it might as well have been a lifetime ago.

How nefarious actors can exploit photos and videos has changed a lot since then, too. Deepfakes, face-swapping, and even sextortion schemes are on the rise, and children are far from immune. In some cases, minors are the primary targets of the world’s worst people.

Privacy Has Changed

It’s not just worst-case scenario hazards that make parents like Nwoko think hard about how they share photos of their children online; it’s also about somewhat less nightmarish but still damaging scenarios concerning embarrassment and a general lack of privacy.

“As a 90s kid whose parents used a point-and-shoot compact camera and sent the film off to Boots to be developed, my precious baby photos have remained securely tucked away among a collection of physical photo albums somewhere in my parents’ garage. As they should be,” Nwoko writes. “I never had to experience my childhood photos being shared online, so I’ve never had to deal with the consequences. Everything was more private back then, and I want it to be the same for my son.”

Ultimately, after a lot of careful thought and consideration, she scrubbed all photos of her son from social media. While she knows that doesn’t mean they’re truly gone, she has done what she can. She has withdrawn consent from her son’s school and sports teams, ensuring he will not be photographed or used in marketing or promotional materials.

Parents are contemplating "sharenting" and whether they should post pictures of their children online

“Being a parent means being proud, but it also means shielding our children from unnecessary risks. Exposing them to unknown audiences isn’t worth the likes or the attention,” she concludes.

Nwoko’s decision to remove old photos rings familiar for PetaPixel. Earlier this year, a mother reached out and requested the removal of a story from May 2020 that included photos of her kids. The story was about portraits she captured of her son, showing him wearing different outfits during homeschooling during the pandemic.

“Unfortunately my kids are have been dealing with cyber bullying. I never thought we’d get to this point,” she wrote.

PetaPixel promptly removed the article. It is sometimes really difficult to predict how images online may affect someone years after they were uploaded.

Sharing Versus Protecting: A Constantly Changing Decision

It’s a personal topic for so many parents. Some have decided to prioritize sharing content online and building more connections, which is perfectly reasonable. After all, living in fear can be a suffocating way to exist.

Others, like Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have decided to hide their kids’ faces online. Admittedly, few people are exposed to as many threats as someone like Zuckerberg.

It’s not even evident that there’s genuinely any way to preserve a child’s privacy. CCTVs, Ring doorbells, and security cameras at schools and daycares are everywhere and thoroughly unavoidable in modern society.

“There’s no way to completely protect your child’s privacy if you don’t live on a remote, internet-free island,” writes privacy journalist and expectant mother Johana Bhuiyan for The Guardian.

Citing input from Albert Fox Cahn, executive director at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), Bhuiyan explains that the decision facing parents these days is not so much how to prevent all potential harm but determining precisely which harms they want to mitigate.

Parents are contemplating "sharenting" and whether they should post pictures of their children online

“Thinking about my own future kid, my current threat model includes his Muslim mother who is a journalist. It’s a combination that might put me, and consequently my family, at higher risk of potential doxxing, hacking or surveillance because of my religion or what I report on. So my priorities include protecting information that might reveal our home address and the places we frequent, shielding my future son’s images from surveillance tech firms like Clearview AI, and keeping as much personal information about him off the internet for as long as possible,” Bhuiyan says.

It’s a parent’s job to shield and protect their kids from harm, whatever form that takes. And it’s immediately apparent that the dangers of the internet are real and ever-changing in ways that privacy risks never have been before.

The internet and social media enable connections between loved ones in thoroughly wonderful ways. But for every positive connection made online, the door gets opened a little further for everyone, including the eminently dangerous.