Pictures of children online


Image: ‘Beehive Head‘ by Josie Fraser

Via D’Arcy, who has been ‘Deflickring’ (resetting permissions to friends and family-only access) his account of his son’s pictures in response to Flickr You from Cole Camplese.

The post draws attention to a bunch of issues and decisions to be made about putting pictures of our kids online. As a parent, and also as someone who has the opportunity to talk to young people in the context of work about there own web practices and strategies for a great and safe experience of tech, the implications and impacts of posting children’s pictures publicly is something I’ve had to think about. So Coles post offers a neat starting point for looking at some of the strands.

Most information tech professionals have, by definition, a reasonably easy to find online presence – their non-anonymous blogging, networks, and service use are typically part of their professional as well as off-duty activities. We’re also used to belonging to communities of people we mostly like, who we perhaps know exclusively or primarily online. So it may seem like an obvious extension of that to post up pictures of our families, to model our everyday sense of our experience of ourselves online. There are probably a lot of parents who just don’t think about the implications of the whole world being able to check out their children’s pictures. So what are the issues?

Firstly, there’s thorny the issue of consent. Children aren’t recognised as being able to give conformed consent about a lot of things. If your child’s school, for instance, wanted to use a picture on their website, they would have to seek parental consent. Here are Surrey County Councils guidelines for using images of children. Some of these guidelines address legal issues and responsibilities; some additionally address equality and e-safety issues.

There are also ethical, or just straightforwardly thoughtful, considerations. My mum has a particularly embarrassing picture of me that haunted the whole of my childhood. As an adult, I’m ok with it (no, really). Thankfully my mum was mostly sensitive about my particular loathing of this picture and didn’t get it out at every available opportunity – if she’d have put it online I can imagine I would have been mortified. Maybe not at the time she put it up, but certainly a few years down the line, and especially if anyone from my school had come across it.

There’s also the issue of digital presence. Is it up to us to contribute to our children’s digital presence? Would you have liked your parents contributing to what searches of you might return? As Scott comments on Flickr You:

“…they have no say in the matter, and yet you are making choices about their identity online, which impacts their identity far into the future. I think the issue of safety is real, but I also think you have an obligation to allow your children (and your wife) to create their own sense of self.”

The other obvious issues are internet related child abuse and bullying. I’m very much against a moral-panic approach to using technology, and I also think it’s very important that we evaluate and regard risks appropriately. While the vast majority of child abuse takes place entirely offline, and is typically perpetrated by the victims family or immediate circle, that’s also no reason to dismiss the chances of a child or young person we know coming into contact with someone who could harm them. We take steps to educate them about a range of strategies they can use to look out for themselves in their offline and online dealings. In the same way, we need to model good practice ourselves. I’d encourage my son not to put inappropriate pictures of himself online, including ones that could come back to haunt him, and to never put pictures of his friends online without express permission. I don’t want him posting and individual pictures that identify him by his name and by specific everyday locations, and I’d ask him to consider the information that someone could put together from the range of resources he puts out there, in the same way I’d ask him not to give his home address to complete strangers.

10 thoughts on “Pictures of children online

  1. Good points Josie. The thing is, I really didn’t put much thought into it before. It just naturally extended from my own online activities (which are pretty free, open, and honest). After stepping back and thinking about it, it’s obvious that it’s not something I should have done. Hopefully I’ve been able to fix it before anything embarrasses him…

  2. This whole thing just sort snowballed for me over the last few weeks. First, one of my friends here at the University had a nasty experience that prompted my wife to bring it up to me … the second part to the whole thing is a combination of D’Arcy’s thoughts on building my children’ online identity for them and the notion of drawing some sort of line in the privacy sand. It was a tough decision, but I feel so much better about it now that it is done.
    I really enjoyed this post and find your perspectives insightful. Thanks for helping to make sense of a real issue.

  3. This is interesting as I have recently revised my use of Flickr in two areas. My defaults are:
    and CC Share Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.
    This means that I have to select the photos that I make public, adn when doing that I think more carefully about the subjects within the photos. Interestingly, I do not worry too much about crowd scenes in a public place – should I?

  4. Hi everyone, thanks for taking the time to comment.
    D’Arcy, you & I both know that being a parent is all about blaming yourself for something or other. And when are kids are older, they’ll be mad at us for some terrible embarrassing thing that we didn’t even think of. I’ve very much in the ‘good-enough’ camp of parenting.
    Cole – thanks for kicking off this debate, I’m enjoying it a lot. Thanks to both of you guys for having such a public discussion – It takes a lot of guts and heart to thrash things through like this and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on both your posts.
    Hi Frances – I guess, like most things, it really depends 🙂 showing one kid or showing lots of kids isn’t a bad thing in itself – it’s just making the judgement between context, permissions, etiquette and safety considerations.

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  6. This is really interesting Josie, whilst I fully agree with your ideas about children’s consent and digital presence I find this conflicts with my personal reluctance to ‘censor’ or make private any images of my children. I feel that by doing this I am contributing, or at least pandering to, the notion that images of children are per se dangerously alluring. Perhaps we should just give them the gift of a pretend online name for all those future embarrassing search results?

  7. Hey Lee – thanks for the comment. To be honest, I was expecting a little more public argument over my position – I know from talking to people at events that there are disagreements.
    Two issues for me in your comment:
    1. Images of children as intrinsically provocative – this isn’t an issue that occurred to me, so thanks for raising it. It suspect we are both on the same wavelength regarding the so-called intrinsic meaning of any images, including pornography – meaning is socially constructed and located with the viewer rather than residing in the image. I’m very much not against seeing images of children – in fact I think that the representation of children already operates censoriously within adult economies. We could do with a more diverse representation.
    2. I’m addressing the issue from a very personal perspective, as someone who has a visible online presence – from necessity, since I work in the field, and also socially since I hang out online far too much. It’s pretty easy to contact me, on or off line, I’m reasonably keen not to extend that to my son, and within the context of my online activity, restricting access to images of him is one way of doing that.

  8. Josie…a great – and very interesting – conversation. and one that i’ve never seen debated overtly within the mommyblog world, weirdly…perhaps b/c those of us over there have already inherently crossed those lines of privacy. 🙂
    Dave & i have, to this point, gone with more or less full disclosure in terms of O’s online presence…i don’t hide his name behind a pseudonym on the blog, and the flickr account is still public…though not splashed across the frontpage.
    i’d love to pretend this is all b/c we talked this through and have noble ideologies underpinning our decisions…but i think your post may be the spark that starts that conversation, instead. i do have a vague inclination towards the point Lee made about not wanting to pander to notions of children being “dangerously alluring”, or conversely to assume that my child is somehow safe b/c his online presence is restricted. i don’t know that calling him “Poopy” would keep him truly more anonymous, or do much for his self-esteem if for some reason my mom-blog does follow him into his own eventual online life.
    do you think the age of the child in question has some bearing on the issues of context and permissions? ’cause yep, i’m actively giving shape to O’s identity online. at the same time, he’s a baby…and i’m with him almost 24/7. i’m giving shape to a hell of a lot of his identity. admittedly not all is likely taking root in the ways i imagine it to be…but at this age, his sense of self really IS my responsibility. later, no…agreed.
    part of me just figures, hell, i’m going to embarrass him eventually anyway…at least if the blog does trace its way through into his consciousness when he’s older, he’ll be able to see that we meant well, and know that he was loved.
    and yet i know there are further implications to what you’re saying. your comment above about being keen to restrict consequences of your own online activity to your son reminded me a bit of what celebrity parents go through, trying to keep their kids out of the glare of the public eye that the parents have chosen. as we become a networked society, in a sense we all live a little more in that glare. and that kids should have some input into how they’re thrust into it. but what types of protection will help them learn to manage it effectively?

  9. Thanks for your really thoughtful comments Bon. I love the idea of codename Poopy, although I suspect that O would have to share his embarrassment with zillions of others. The approach I think has got to be one of effective digital literacy for the whole community – particularly children, young people, parents and teachers. I put out my stall quite clearly last year in this response I wrote to DOPA –
    How you choose to approach putting children’s images online is really going to be best determined by your whole approach to safety issues and considerations – me choosing not to make pictures of my child public isn’t going to guarantee his safety in anyway, it’s just an element of my approach to parenting.

  10. I think parents should talk to their kids about safe surfing habit. It is always advisable to check that the site has no way to identify where kid lives or his/her full names. The kids’ clothing or surroundings in the photos, such as in school or home, should not reveal where they live or hang out. Also the file names of the photos shouldn’t include their names. If you are responsible enough you just can’t publish address or phone number publicly.

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