Children's images on the net: problematic aspects of "sharenting

In some German states, the summer vacations have already begun and herald the vacation season for many families. People like to record their children's wonderful experiences on the beach or in the pool with photos and videos. And they are just as happy to share them with relatives and friends. But caution is advised here, because children also have a right to their own image, and once pictures have been published, they may never be able to be removed from the Internet. klicksafe gives tips on what parents need to be aware of and how they can protect their children appropriately.

The phenomenon of parents sharing pictures of their children now has its own word: sharenting. It is made up of the English word "parenting" and the verb "to share. Parents do not mean any harm when they share recordings of their children with others. On the contrary, it is quite understandable to want to share the beautiful, funny or grotesque moments of family life with other people. The only thing is that the child's perspective is often disregarded.

What do children think about their pictures on the web?
What is funny for adults can be embarrassing and shameful for children. And if not immediately, then possibly years later. Because depending on where the recordings were published, they may still be accessible years or even decades later. In the EU Kids Online Survey 2019, nine percent of the children surveyed reported that their parents had posted texts, pictures or videos of them online without their consent. Six percent each were annoyed by the published information or asked their parents to delete it again.
The German Children's Fund also examined the phenomenon of "sharenting" in a study and came to the conclusion that children have a very clear sense of the circumstances under which they agree to pictures or videos being published and when this is not the case. In this context, parents' and children's criteria for evaluating an image can differ greatly, so that children find recordings problematic that adults consider harmless. The study concludes "[...] that, as a rule, children would disclose significantly fewer images than their parents."

What can parents do to protect their children?
klicksafe offers"Too naked for the Internet?-10 steps for more safety when dealing with children's photos online", an info card that parents can use to easily check whether they have considered all important aspects before publishing a picture. On the one hand, the info card encourages parents to actively involve their children in the decision-making process, but it is also intended to enable them to put themselves in the shoes of the children depicted.
Apart from the right to one's own image and the children's general right to self-determination, which must be taken into account, there are also some more abstract dangers that are not readily comprehensible, especially for younger children, and must therefore be considered by the parents. Therefore, even a child's consent should not automatically be interpreted as meaning that publication is appropriate.

Further possible problematic consequences of publicly accessible images of children

  • In the context of cyberbullying, photos published on the Internet can be used by perpetrators to cause great harm. Children and young people understandably do not want to be confronted with embarrassing images of themselves, but even supposedly harmless images can be used to expose someone, for example through post-processing.
  • Unfortunately, it is a widespread phenomenon that actually harmless pictures of children, for example of babies in diapers, children in pajamas or teenagers in swimwear, are misused in sexualized contexts. Perpetrators with a sexual interest in children specifically seek out such images on the Internet to make them available to like-minded people. Although this does not pose any direct physical danger to the children, neither the parents nor the children probably want their images to be abused in this context.
  • In order for children to be protected from sexual violence and boundary violations, they must first know their limits and rights. It is therefore essential that they are made aware, especially by those they trust, that they have a say when it comes to their private sphere and that even adults are not allowed to disregard the boundaries they have set. Children who are sensitized in this way have a better chance of noticing border violations in dangerous situations, drawing attention to them and getting help.
  • One danger that is still quite abstract and about which it is not possible to say for sure whether it will be relevant in the future is that of automatic facial recognition. Although this technology is already operational today, it is not yet usable on a large scale for private individuals. At the moment, it is not possible to seriously assess whether this will continue to be the case and what legal requirements will apply to it in the future. The fact that images of small children are also relevant in this context was recently demonstrated by a case in China, in which a child abducted at the age of two was found 30 years later as an adult male with the help of facial recognition software.

Further information on the topic