The on-line world knows a great deal about my boys. They have a digital imprint that took shape before they were even born – when I first mentioned pregnancy on social media. And it’s starting to worry me – what these digital footprints will mean.
I wonder, what are your security questions for secure accounts? What primary school you went to? The name of your first pet? Your mother’s maiden name perhaps? Things that no-one but you and those very close to you would know, right?
Now, if someone looked at your social profiles, could they answer those questions for your children? For me, the answer is yes. Facebook posts, this blog and other social media would easily reveal the name of our dog, where my child goes to school and my maiden name. Before they are old enough to have any kind of self-generated internet presence, my kids already have an impressive digital footprint.
I have four main concerns:
- How to protect my children from on-line strangers who would use their image or their identity in a fraudulent or frightening way.
- The information that could be collated and stored about my kids. Facebook uses the way we interact with it and other sites to in order to target its advertising. I know I sound slightly like a conspiracy theorist, but mining big data is big business.The more digital breadcrumbs we leave, the tastier the cake ends up being for advertisers. I think this trend will continue to grow. Through birth announcements, requests for advice, incidental status updates, the sharing of funny anecdotes, events, a whole bunch of photos and their accompanying meta-data, my children have fairly comprehensive digital profiles.
- That the information I am sharing, which seems cute and funny right now, may ultimately lead to embarrassing my kids.
- That when my children are old enough to have their own social media profiles, they will post something unwise and it will lead to a digital drama.
So, aside from deleting my social media channels (unlikely) or having a blanket ban on posting anything to do with my children (also unlikely), what should I do? What should you do?
Firstly, ensuring that Facebook privacy settings are correct is a big one. They need to be looked at regularly and its a good idea to periodically check what your profile looks like to the public. You can do this by going into your profile, click on the … button and choose view as > public. You might see a number of older profile and cover images, which you can then hide from your timeline. Remember cover photos and profile photos are publicly viewable, so think about what you use. You can also create a group of trusted friends within your larger Facebook friend group and make sure that when you post pictures of kids or status updates about them, they are only visible to that group. This Facebook help article tells you how to do that.
Secondly, think about your personal policy regarding your children on-line. You might be happy to share them on closed networks within Facebook, but not on a more open platform like Twitter or Instagram (if you have a public account). Make sure that your friends and family know your position. And unless you are absolutely certain that their parents won’t mind, don’t post photos of other people’s children.
Thirdly, think carefully when you post about your kids. A beautiful author friend of mine, who very occasionally writes about her son, told me her litmus test is this: Would my son or I be embarrassed to read this when he is eighteen? Would I be proud to have him discover these words when he is eighteen? I think that’s an excellent perspective and applies as readily to photos and posts as it does longer pieces of prose.
Lastly, keep conversations about social media open. Ensure that kids are aware of online risks and the longevity of any social media post (even if its on a platform that supposedly deletes posts after a period of time or purports anonymity). There are some great tips on the Australian Cybersmart site and at The Modern Parent (Thanks Lisa for the tip)