A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Dakshana Bascaramurty for a piece in The Globe and Mail about sharing photos online. The article, Photo filchers fuel Facebook fears, was published just over a week ago. I have also been quoted in The Vancouver Sun on a similar issue in How to stop creeps from looking at photos of your kids on Flickr. I am the poster child for posting children’s photos, yo.
My infamous breastfeeding photo
The Globe article tells a cautionary tale about putting your photos, and especially your children’s photos, online. People can steal them. And anyone can see them. Even! Weirdos! Toronto Police Detective Paul Krawczyk, who works in the child exploitation section of the sex crimes unit says that the risk is small, but is quoted as also saying:
We see these images on the hard drives of people [we arrest]: kids playing soccer, kids at the park, digital photos from school. On a daily basis, I see people who are into child pornography posting these types of images on websites … As long as youâ€™re comfortable going to downtown Toronto and … leaving 1,000 copies of the picture there, that’s cool.
Another extremely exciting family photo from Christmas, 2006
Here’s my take, and what I told Dakshana – anyone can see your photos, and so you have to make sure to only post photos that you’re comfortable with anyone seeing. If I post photos online I don’t use privacy controls because I want my grandma to be able to see the photos of her great grandchildren. Instead, I keep in mind that these are public images and I choose them accordingly. My husband and I agree, and we consider this a parenting decision that we have made together.
I don’t make that decision for other people. I am not going to post your child’s image or name online without your permission. That is your parenting decision to make, and I understand that other people have different comfort levels. That’s cool, and totally understandable. Just as we may make different decisions about schooling or discipline, we can make different decisions about sharing our children’s photos.
Some of my son Jacob’s first steps, posted online
Being clear that I am not coming from a place of judgment, I want to share why I am comfortable posting my kids’ images and names. I started posting the photos to share with my friends and family, who want to keep up to date. That is what I’m getting out of it – connection. And as for the risk, I believe it’s tiny. The New York Times interviewed some experts who agree with me. Here is an excerpt:
“Research shows that there is virtually no risk of pedophiles coming to get kids because they found them online,” said Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the Family Online Safety Institute. While the debate makes this crime seem common, he said, all the talk is really just “techno-panic.”
The actual risk of stranger abduction is virtually nil. In 2006, in the US, the odds of a child under 18 being abducted by a stranger were approximately 1 in 12,000. That is 0.0083%. Obviously, every case is a tragedy and we should work to stop it. But I think it’s important to keep the actual danger level in perspective. Our children face far more danger from automobile traffic than they do from strangers, in the real world or online.
Our whole family, Christmas 2008, for all to see
While I don’t think Flickr, Facebook and my blog are dangerous, I do consider my children’s privacy. The internet is a public place. Even if there is no real threat of danger befalling my children, there is a very real possibility of embarrassment or hurt feelings. Every word that you type can be seen by your mother, your boss or your best friend. Or your children in 15 years. So I err on the side of caution when I choose topics, and I ask myself how I would feel if someone wrote something similar about me.
When I publish internet content I limit myself to content and images that I would be OK handing out to 1000 random people in Toronto, so I think I’m cool with Detective Krawczyk. Although I think a more accurate analogy would be if I and 100,000 of my closest friends each printed 1000 copies and left them in an enormous pile. Regardless, my real fear is whether my children will set similar limits, when they’re old enough to have an internet presence that I don’t moderate. That’s where I believe the real danger lies, the occasional creepy story notwithstanding.
What about you? How do you decide what to post and not post online? Have you had any encounters that gave you the willies? Please share!