18 Jul 2019

Oversharing pics of the kids - harmless or impactful?

From Nine To Noon, 11:35 am on 18 July 2019

Why do some parents over-share pictures and videos of their children on social media? What are the potential implications of what may be a permanent digital footprint?

Psychologist Sarb Johal's been thinking over the subject and says it's time children and teenagers had a voice over what parents share given the possible implications on their later lives.

He told Kathryn Ryan images shared on various platforms were effectively a 'digital tattoo".

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Photo: 123RF

"What we might be doing is actually lengthening their childhood so that they can't get rid of it. It's actually out of their control. You can't put the cat back in the box, this is a childhood that won't go away."

Unlike the embarrassing polaroid of old that haunted previous generations, a digital image never goes away, it can't be destroyed, he says.

"You can't do that with a digital photo because it's replicated, it's cloned in different sizes so that it looks different on a mobile phone to a desktop, and all these platforms they're monetised, they're used, they're not in your control.

"And that data about when that child hit its developmental milestones, what T-shirt it was wearing, what it was into at that time, then becomes part of their identity and it's triangulated upon and that information is sold or things are sold to them."

He says parent need to think carefully about who owns an image; the parent or the child. France has recently passed legislation governing this matter, he says.

"I think that there is a process of literacy and education that's going on, and in some places in the world that's more developed than others. In France, for example, if a parent publishes a child's picture without them having a say so or being able to veto that, they can be sued and there is a possible fine, a severe consequence, a 45,000 euro fine."

So what is oversharing? And why do parents engage in this behaviour? There are two main reasons, he says.

"One of the reasons is that actually they're proud. They see something and they think it's wonderful and they want to share that with the world.

"But then there's also the other side of it is that we're actually wanting to demonstrate that we're good parents. There's a lot of social pressure out there …. show me that you are aligning to society's ideals about what good parenting."

And parents are just as susceptible as children to 'likes', he says.

"The slightly negative side of this is that we're doing it for the likes, to be frank."

But the consequences of a carelessly shared photo can accrue over time, Johal says.

"The basic duties of what a parent's life is is to nurture and to protect. So you're trying to nurture your child to become the person that they have the potential to become, but you're also trying to protect them from harm - not just in the here and now, but protect them from harm in the future," he says.

That pic of a tantrum in the supermarket might seem harmless now, but ten years on it has the potential to embarrass, he says.

"The consequences of that added up over time is it becomes a catalogue of things that you don't want to see about yourself. I think that there's a potential there for people, when they're feeling vulnerable, to see that presented out in the world where they don't have control over it and I think that there's an interesting inequality that then starts to arise."

Some people, he says, may have the resources to have images of themselves hidden.

"We're starting to see the emergence of digital forgetting services and digital identity management. What we see then as a consequence of that is the monetisation of forgetting where we can pay someone. We can get that rank to down lower in the searches so that that doesn't appear when people are looking for information about us.

"If you can afford it, you can get that done. If you can't, then that stuff is the stuff that floats to the top. You can't escape it. It follows you around."

That is why it is important young peoples' voices are heard, he says.

"I think we do need to actively seek out young people's voices so that then we can start to shape the ecosystem that we want, rather than one that we're presented often by big corporates who have different motivations to parents - who rightly want to express pride or to share this information with far flung relatives - but you know what's happening to those images once it's out of our control?"