7 Ways to be Cautious When Sharing Photos Online

Tips for balancing the benefits and risks of photo-sharing on social networks.
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Social media has become the new back fence — a place where parents can tell stories, swap tips and even brag a bit. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that moms, in particular, give and get lots of encouragement as well as useful parenting information using networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Almost all of these efforts involve photos, which would be great if those photos would stay put. Unfortunately, they don’t. Photos of cute kids — especially babies — have been misappropriated by people who use them for their own, sometimes dubious, purposes. Baby role-playing, for example, involves young women who use random photos of children to fantasize about motherhood. By posting pictures and inventing details about babies they don’t now, they attract attention on social media.

In these so-called digital kidnappings, a child may not be in physical danger. But most parents find it disconcerting to see their child’s face in someone else’s fantasy. In other cases, parents have stumbled across familiar photos that have been used in advertising or to create memes — those Internet placards that sometimes take on a life of their own.

Parents should think seriously about what impact a post that seems cute today might have on a child in the future. Here are some tips for balancing the benefits and risks of photo-sharing on social networks.

1. Use privacy settings.

The previously mentioned Pew Research Center report found that parents typically had 150 friends on Facebook. Of those, one third were “actual” friends. Consider sharing photos of children only with those friends. (Most social media sites make it easy to establish different groups within your community.)

2. Share your reshare policy.

Even if you’re careful about privacy, photos can escape your network if they are reshared. To discourage resharing, remind friends and family that photos are “for your eyes only.” Explain your concerns and ask that they not post photos of playdates or other outings without your permission. Extend the same courtesy to them.

3. Use a nickname.

Instead of using your child’s real name, use a pseudonym so it becomes harder to connect an escaped photo to your family and spares your child the embarrassment of having baby pictures show up when someone googles her in the future.

4. Make copying difficult.

Save photos with the lowest possible resolution. Not only will the file transmit more quickly, but it will also be blurry if someone tries to enlarge it. Borrow a trick from professional photographers by putting a signature or watermark on your photos. Visualwatermark.com is one of several free services that make it easy to brand digital pictures.

5. Do not post naked pictures.

Ever. No matter how cute or innocent they may seem, naked pictures should not be posted online. Even if you don’t attract the attention of a predator or run afoul of obscenity standards on your social network, you risk distributing a picture that will be used to harass your child in the future.

6. Use an alternative album.

Some parents use social media as a baby album, keeping track of firsts as they happen. Try making albums on password-protected sites like Flickr or Photobucket. Share passwords only with family members and trusted friends. Back up photo files in the cloud or on a separate hard or flash drive. For photos that really matter, consider making prints or photo books. 

7. Be selective.

Ruthlessly cull your photos. Review and delete them at least once a week. Only share photos that are special in some way. Post vacation pictures after you return home so people won’t know when your house is unoccupied.

Childhood is fleeting and a photo can help you remember these special days. Instead of reflexively reaching for the camera, get in the habit of considering whether a photo will deepen — or interrupt — a special moment with your child.

Carolyn Jabs raised three computer-savvy kids, including one with special needs. Visit growing-up-online.com to read more of her columns.

Categories: Family, Home, Kids + Media, Parenting