OPINION PIECE: When does sharing become over-sharing?

When your baby comes of age might he take you to court for breaching his right to privacy? Might a young adult consider your Facebook posts of cute pictures of their toddler years embarrassing or even offensive in a few years’ time? When does sharing become over-sharing?

A new rite of passage for many parents-to-be now entails the posting of every stage of pregnancy online, including photographs of scans, the ‘baby bump’ and, for some, even video of births. YouTube is awash with videos of babies being born, including home births, water births and even c-sections. Robbie Williams famously live tweeted and posted short videos online throughout the whole of his wife Ayda’s labour, including his attempts at the song ‘Let it go’ from Frozen as she started to push (until she told him to shut up). The advent of Facebook Live has even allowed the live streaming of births.

All of this of course is part of the ‘sharing’ ethos of social media. We are encouraged to share our closest, most intimate moments with a wide audience of family, friends and even total strangers. Rather than putting our baby photographs in an album to be brought out for a few select visitors and re-visited only occasionally, we posted them online for a much larger audience.

A 2015 study by Nominet found that today’s children will feature in nearly 1000 photographs online before they reach the age of five. However, how much is too much – and are we considering the rights to privacy of our children when we share photos of potty training or tales of the terrible twos?

Last year, French parents were warned to stop posting pictures of their children online in case the children later sued them and claimed substantial compensation awards for publishing intimate details of their private lives without consent.

In autumn 2016, an 18 year-old woman in Austria sued her parents for posting embarrassing photographs on Facebook, alleging that they had violated her privacy by posting over 500 photos of her as a child. Despite repeated requests they had refused to take the images down and so when she turned 18 she took them to court for infringing her right to privacy.

The current generation of parents had a clean slate when they first ventured online – their online personas have been constructed by themselves. However, our children will face a very different situation. By the time they reach adulthood, they will already have a substantial social media footprint – created by their parents, grandparents and family friends.

While most of this sharing is done with the most loving of motives, parents need to start considering how their over-sharing might impact on their child in the years to come. When parents consider issues of privacy in relation to their children, they mostly construct these problems in terms of ‘stranger danger’ and the misuse of personal information posted online. Few consider how their use of social media will be perceived by their own children as they grow.

However, there is a growing need to reconsider our approach to the privacy of others, including our children, in the way we share information online. Families need to establish policies about how much to share – and with whom. However, tensions can arise if one side of the family – a doting grandmother for example – wants to share photographs more widely than the parents are happy about.

Privacy settings should be checked and children themselves consulted as soon as they are old enough to understand. And they need to be listened to. If your seven year-old objects to a photograph, don’t ignore their wishes and post it anyway, however cute you think it is. One day that seven year-old will be old enough to take you to court.

Professor Pedersen is a Professor of Communication and Media and the Gender Equality Champion at RGU

Posted by Stacey Lynch
Communications Officer | Business and Law
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