It happens every few months: Someone I know will post a vague, but dire, warning on Facebook or Twitter about the dangers of posting children’s pictures and names on social media.
Sometimes the warning is a response to a news story about a child who has been abducted or murdered, and sometimes the catalyst for the post has nothing to do with a crime against a child at all. Most recently, following the news that Facebook had provided a platform for Cambridge Analytica to capture information from users, a friend took to Twitter to chastise parents: “It’s dangerous to post your child’s photo on Facebook. If you won’t protect your own data, at least protect your children’s privacy!” What Cambridge Analytica’s political drama had to do with the safety of my children, I have no idea.
I understand that the people who post these warnings have their hearts in the right place. Raising children in a safe and loving environment is our primary goal as parents, and sometimes the world can feel so scary that we see boogeymen where they don’t exist.
The reality is, there’s very little danger that posting our children’s photos on social media is going to lead to a tragedy, and I’m tired of being shamed or scared into thinking that a photo of my kids playing at the park (that I do not name or tag and share only with my Facebook friends) is going to cause something awful to happen to them. Nor does writing about my children for a publication put them at greater risk than any other child in our suburban neighborhood.
The reality is, there’s very little danger that posting our children’s photos on social media is going to lead to a tragedy
Those of us who grew up without the internet and social media can have an unconscious bias against the very technology we enjoy using on a daily basis. It’s easy to be suspicious of something new, especially anything that allows us to access the outside world while allowing that outside world to have some access to us, as well.
“Better safe than sorry” isn’t a bad motto to have as a parent, so we have conversations with our kids about “stranger danger” even though it’s something that rarely becomes an issue. In fact, according to the Polly Klaas Foundation, around 100 children are abducted each year by the stereotypical stranger — less than one percent of all of the children taken annually—and half of those kids come home. Additionally, the possibility of a child being abducted by a stranger based on a photo posted on the internet is so minuscule as to be a virtually nonexistent risk.
I understand the inclination to see something harmful in publicly sharing pictures that were once displayed only on the refrigerator, but the truth is that children are far more likely to be victims of people they know —a parent, relative or family friend—than they are a stranger who sees their picture on the internet.
Put it this way: A child is more at risk of being a victim of one of the grownups in the pictures with them than any stranger who might see the posted pictures.
Yes, it’s smart to take precautions when sharing personal information about children and to use privacy settings judiciously. But there is no need to be afraid of posting a snapshot from your family’s life—or to fall prey to ominous warnings telling you not to.