In a world where sharing content and details of our lives on social media platforms is increasingly becoming a part of our social identities, adults are cautioned to be particularly mindful of what they share of their children, or any other minor, online.
Despite the best intentions of platforms such as Facebook, the public ultimately has no control over images in the public domain. Remember the “mood swing” meme, featuring a disgruntled child on a swing? It’s pretty certain that Julia Fierro, the American mother who snapped her daughter’s dark mood while on holiday, never intended the image to be seen by the millions of people worldwide who laughed at it.
She couldn’t have imagined that, hours after posting the pic to her timeline, it would be co-opted by her husband’s colleague, photoshopped and re-posted to Reddit – from there, morphing into a slice of popular culture.
“Have I learnt anything from the experience? If I have, it isn’t reflected in my daily posts on social media,” wrote Fierro in an article in Huffington Post. “There were a few weeks when I used the initials of [my children’s] first names instead of their full names — an attempt at partial privacy. But I realised that anyone, anywhere, could do an online search and find out everything there is to know about my family. I want to be one of those parents who’ve made (and stuck to) their vow of not posting photos of their children online so that every creep in the world has potential access to them, but isn’t it too late for that?
How would I erase all that I’ve already [over]-shared?”
Closer to home, Palesa* received a shock when she googled her daughter’s name in an idle moment. What she found was that someone had set up a fake Facebook account in her daughter’s name, complete with photos lifted from Palesa’s real Facebook page.
“The account was dismantled as soon as I commented on it, asking who’d created it,” she reports. “I stopped posting footage of my kids after that, but the incident taught me a hard lesson: you stop owning your images as soon as you put them in the public sphere. Social media isn’t free.”
Director at Cape Town-based law firm Abrahams & Gross, Henno Bothma, says: “If you’re talking specifically in the context of posting indecent pictures of minors, it is definitely illegal, regardless of your relation to the child, even if they are your own. Secondly, I would be cautious of posting information which would allow a person, such as an online predator, to be able to identify a child, such as where they go to school and their daily routine. By posting information of that nature, your child is more susceptible to potential predators.”
*Not her real name