More Health:

June 12, 2018

Social media and child predators: A new campaign encourages parents to pause before they post

Children's Health Social Media
Katie_Gagnon_Social_Media Pixabay/pexels.com

Seeing photos of children on social media is ubiquitous. But many parents do not realize that sharing pictures of their little ones online and overexposing children on social media could be making them vulnerable to pedophiles.

According to the Child Rescue Coalition, “child predators not only use the Internet to distribute pornography, but also to stalk children, share info, and trade tips and techniques on how to seduce and lure them into sexual encounters.” For this reason the @KidsForPrivacy campaign, sponsored by the Child Rescue Coalition, is asking parents to pause before posting.

If you are a parent like me, sharing photos and videos of your family is a way to stay connected with friends and relatives. Most American families are doing this every day from their phones. By two years old, 90 percent of children in the United States have been featured on social media like FacebookInstagramTwitter and SnapChat. As pure as our intentions may be in posting pictures and videos of our children running around naked in the backyard or splashing in the bath, parents need to understand that there is a menacing presence online that seeks to take advantage of that information and media. Child predators are actively seeking photos and videos of minors in various stages of undress every day. Parents have to balance our desire to share with the need to protect our children.

The thought of a child predator seeking child pornography by trolling unsuspecting, well-intentioned parents’ social media sites creates a fierce rage in me. Knowing that 85 percent of those who obtain and possess child pornography are also hands-on child abusers is a call to action to take steps to keep our children safe. Here are some social media tips that I encourage you to consider if you are a parent or someone who frequently shares photographs of children online.

CHECK YOUR SETTINGS

Between protecting your children from online predators and all the news that has been coming out about Facebook, there are a number of reasons to double check your privacy settings on every social media platform that you use. I encourage everyone to tighten their settings so all of your photographs and information are not readily available to anyone with access to Google. Nearly 90 percent of parents who share photos of their children on social media platforms have not checked their privacy settings over the last year. Are you one of them? Next time you open these apps, spend a few minutes going through your settings.

ASK A FEW QUESTIONS

Before you post something, ask yourself a few questions. Is this photo embarrassing to my child? Could it cause him embarrassment in the future? Is this photo compromising in any way? Could it be viewed or used as sexual bait by a child predator or pedophile? Does it share too much information or infringe on anyone’s privacy? Consider all of this before you post to determine whether or not you should share.

DON'T USE HASHTAGS OR GEOTAGS

According to the Child Rescue Coalition there are more than 100 hashtags (including #kidsbathing and #pottytraining) that make finding photos easy for those seeking or peddling child pornography. Sadly, that adorable pic of your baby’s bath would not be as easy for a child predator to find if it was not tagged with #nakedbaby. Do not use hashtags when posting photos or videos of your children or if you really love hashtags use them #sparingly and #thoughtfully. Also, be careful about geotags. Sharing your child’s location, like their school or the playground you frequent, gives predators a way to find them. These disgusting individuals do not just want photos online; they want to lure children into sexual encounters offline or worse.

ASK BEFORE YOU SHARE

Whether you are the grandparent, aunt or best friend, ask the parents of the children in your photos if it is OK to post. Some parents may not mind, but others may ask you to not share. Most parents will appreciate being asked. I have a friend whose mother is always posting photos of her grandsons, sharing them on her public Facebook page with lots of hashtags. She never asks before posting and her daughter was forced to have a frank conversation about her concerns with the oversharing of her children’s pictures. As the parent, you have the right to dictate what is and is not shared online about your kids.

SEEK ALTERNATIVES

When I had Killian, a friend recommended that I use a free app called Tinybeans to share photos and videos with select family and friends. Tinybeans is the perfect mechanism to share special moments with loved ones in a safe, controlled way that ensures privacy. Plus it allowed me to avoid becoming that Mom who floods your Facebook wall with every pic on my camera roll! I have used this app nearly every day since Killian was born. Not only do our family and friends love seeing the photos and videos, but I frequently look back through the calendar of photos as a beautiful walk down memory lane.

It may seem odd that a woman who writes about her family in a public column on a news site is warning about the dangers of oversharing but I have always been leery of posting too much personal information on social media. I share photos of my family and my life occasionally on Facebook and more often on Instagram but my privacy settings are tight. You may have noticed that over the last year I stopped using photos of my son to accompany my PhillyVoice column because I wanted to protect Killian from the dangers I have outlined here. Every time I write, I weigh how much I should share versus what is best for my child and family. This is prudent guidance for social media posts, too.

It is really disheartening that parents need to be concerned about the pedophile criminals that use the Internet to prey on children. But it is part of our technologically omnipresent life. Take a moment to review your current social media sharing and consider incorporating these recommendations into your web life to keep our kids safe.


This summer, I will continue the conversation about social media and children including how to talk to your kids about social media sharing, how to monitor your family’s use and how to protect your kids from future identity theft. I would love to hear your thoughts! Share with me and other parents in the comments section below or Tweet me @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.