In 2012, CNN reported that 66 percent of parents say they post pictures of their children on Facebook. In families spread across the world, it's an easy way for grandparents to feel more connected to grandchildren they don't see often. Parents can share the events of their lives -- and their children's -- with friends far and wide, and often do so without really considering potential consequences. As ubiquitous as parent-posted photos of children are on Facebook, it is important to realize the risks involved.
Think a Little Deeper About Sexual Predators
Metadata automatically embedded in photos taken with smartphones and some digital cameras can be accessed by site users when posted on sites such as Facebook. The metadata records photo time and date, as well as location, using geographical coordinates. In a 2011 FBI alert about disabling smartphone geotagging, a FBI Crimes Against Children Unit intelligence analyst explained that regularly posting daily routine details makes it easier to predict where you are and when children might be alone. Many scoff at the idea of a predator stumbling across a Facebook photo of their child and making an inordinate time investment in tracking him down when easier victims are available. They might be right. Stranger abductions are rare. More common are circumstances involving someone local, a casual acquaintance or someone who sees the child around the neighborhood, such as a landscaper or delivery person. Facebook photos of your children, posts, and status updates can give a nearby predator a dangerous amount of information.
Photos Can End Up Anywhere
In 2012, a Boston CBS station reported that Facebook photos of local teenage girls were copied and posted on a pornography website. Forbes published the details of a late 2012 settlement Facebook made in a class action lawsuit involving Facebook users whose names and photos were used by Facebook in "Sponsored Story" advertisements without permission. In response to the lawsuit, Facebook has updated its terms of service, letting users know that, in accepting the terms of service during signup, they grant Facebook permission for this type of name and photo use. When parents post pictures of their kids on Facebook, they take a risk. They have no way of knowing where those photos could eventually end up or what they might be used for.
Conflict Spillover Can Get Ugly
Parents posting pictures of their children on Facebook can leave them vulnerable to being targeted by people the parents have conflict with. An unstable ex-boyfriend might not be able to get close enough to a woman to inflict harm, but could figure out from a Facebook photo of her son in his basketball uniform what school her children go to, then target her children to hurt her. People have pasts, and people in those pasts can be dangerous. Parents in the public eye also face this risk. In 2012, the "New York Daily News" reported that a Washington, D.C., reporter took a sabbatical after teens, angry about her stories on underage drinking, harassed and threatened her children via Facebook and at school.
Family Problems Can Result
Children might come to resent those Facebook photos as an invasion of their privacy. Having their awkward years posted for all to see for years to come might embarrass them. They might prefer some moments to be kept private, away from the eyes of future employers and out of view of future romantic interests. People grow, change and mature on the path to adulthood. The idea of having past mistakes in association, style, and taste recorded and displayed on the Internet for the foreseeable future -- and beyond -- is understandably unpleasant to some and serious family conflict can result. It is important to consider children's feelings regarding Facebook photos of them and to respect short- and long-term privacy concerns they might have.