By: Erin MacLaggan

Regional Coordinator, Early Childhood Services Anglophone East

When we talk about children’s safety in relation to social media, we think about protecting them from online predators and cyber-bullies. But what about protecting their rights?  In this age of status updates, online baby photo albums and videos, and family vlogs, how are our online practices impacting our children’s right to privacy?

It often starts with just a few photos… ultra sound scans and newborn photos are shared from the hospital room. Then parents proudly post photos of first smiles, first steps, the first time on the potty and the first day of school.  Soon it’s photos of your children as they participate in sports, videos of them doing “something cute”, posts about tantrums and anxieties, and perhaps even posts about teenage indiscretions.  Today’s youth are the first generation of children to experience this phenomenon of growing up online. When they are old enough to create their own accounts on social media these children will come face to face with a public identity which was created without their permission. How will our children handle coming face to face with a digital shadow that they may not want?

Professor Nicola Whitton of Manchester Metropolitan University is among those predicting trouble. “I think we’re going to get a backlash in years to come from young people coming to realise that they’ve had their whole lives, from the day they were born, available to social media.” A recent University of Michigan study found that children aged 10 to 17 “were really concerned” about the ways parents shared their children’s lives online.

In March 2016, French police warned parents against posting photos of their children on social media; according to social media analyst Eric Delcroix, children could soon be able to sue them for posting inappropriate pictures under France’s privacy laws.

In Canada, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified in 1991. Amongst other articles, the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that every child has the right to privacy (Article 16) and has the right to have their opinions taken into account when adults make decisions that will affect them (Article 12).  What are the future implications for parents who have shared so much online?  Is it only a matter of time before children mount legal challenges against parents who have shared too much?  Perhaps it’s time for us to revisit our social media habits and have conversations with our children about what constitutes fair sharing.