The colloquial term for parental sharing of images of their children online is “sharenting”, and it’s very common in our digital age. But posting a child’s life online for the whole world to see comes with known risks to the child’s safety and privacy. Many parents are now well aware of precautions they should be taking when sharenting (obviously, not revealing your child’s home address, for instance). However, what happens if you share parenting with your ex, and you have very different views on whether the children’s photos should be uploaded to social media or not?
Risks of sharenting
Aside from the danger of predators stalking a child in real life after locating them through social media, there’s also the threat of paedophiles appropriating innocent images and misusing them:
“The Australian eSafety commissioner had said that 50% of all images on paedophile image-sharing sites had originated on family blogs and on social media. And these weren’t pictures of children nude. They were pictures of kids doing everyday activities, but they were being targeted by paedophiles and collected and then being used for bad purposes”.
Then there is the danger of identity theft or “digital kidnapping”. Barclays Bank research predicts that by 2030, almost two thirds of all identity theft cases will be due to what parents have shared online about their children. Fraudsters gather information from names, birthdays, addresses inadvertently revealed by parents, with the information used to steal identities and/or crack passwords.
Privacy is the other main issue. It’s especially important in relation to children, as they are vulnerable due to their lack of power and lack of option to consent. It’s not yet known what the long-term impact of sharenting may be for children and whether there will be repercussions in adulthood due to their digital footprint.
Australia has growing recognition of children’s rights and they are increasingly treated as autonomous agents possessing rights. In 2013 Australia appointed its first National Children’s Commissioner to ensure children’s voices are heard on decisions that affect them. And policy and research regarding kids now aims to be more inclusive of their views.
Perhaps a time will come when legislation is amended so that children have more rights in relation to sharenting and to clarify parental responsibility around it. In some jurisdictions around the world, there is evidence of that occurring.
For example, in Monaco, the court system divides parental responsibility into “usual acts” (which can be performed by only one parent, as the consent of the other parent is presumed) and “non-usual acts” (which need the agreement of both holders of parental responsibility). Their case law has established that the courts regard sharenting as a “non-usual act” which therefore requires both parents’ agreement, otherwise it is found to be against the best interests of the child. What’s more, the child can sue the sharenting parent for breach of privacy in a civil liability action brought by the other parent on the child’s behalf (limited to within five years of the instance of sharenting occurring).
Other risks of sharenting
Sharenting can also cause issues in family law if your social media posts of your children are used as evidence – and social media postings are increasingly brought into court proceedings. It may be that you post content that your co-parent can use to paint a negative picture of you to a court in a parenting matter, or that suggest a risk of harm to the children.
It may be that you and your ex agree on how to handle sharing children’s photos and information online. But if you are on different pages, it gets trickier. As co-parents, you may well have different rules under each parent’s roof, which in most cases requires you to accept the fact that you can’t control what occurs in your co-parent’s home. However, if there are issues of safety that you can prove arise specifically due to your co-parent’s posting of the children’s images online – and that it’s therefore something that is contrary to the children’s best interests – then a court could be satisfied that it should intervene.
If you are the sharenting parent, practice internet safety by:
- keeping your social media accounts private;
- never sharing images that reveal your children’s school uniform, your home address, car license plate and the like;
- placing ‘stickers’ over your children’s faces to conceal them;
- not sharing images of your children’s friends unless you’ve asked permission;
- consider sending photos directly to the people you wish to receive them; and
- if you have any doubt about the appropriateness of an image, don’t post it.
If you are the parent who does not wish your co-parent to share images of the children:
- Make your feelings clear to your co-parent and seek their agreement on boundaries for sharenting.
- If you are at odds on the subject and you are going through court seeking parenting orders, you could add to the orders you are seeking ones which will restrain the other party’s ability to make social media postings about the children — the courts do have the power to make such orders if determined to be the children’s best interests.
- Parties in family law proceedings are already forbidden by law from publicly discussing any aspect of their family law case which may identify their children, but judgments sometimes expressly order that a spouse is, for example, restrained from “publishing any matter on social media which would or could reasonably be inferred to relate to these proceedings and/or the [spouse] or children, or any member of the [spouse]’s household or family”. This restraint on making postings regarding the children generally clearly widens the scope of the information implicitly forbidden from publication under family law.
- Be aware that Google has a form which you or your older child can use to request that images or information about them are removed from Google search results (though it can’t remove the image from the original website – you would need to approach a particular site’s webmaster to request that).
If you need family law advice on a parenting issue, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.
You might also like to read our blog on family law and social media.