By Malcolm Sutton
Parents might think there is no harm is posting an image of their child on Tinder or Facebook, but authorities warn those same images could end up in the galleries of paedophiles.
The rise of social media and dating applications has seen images of children uploaded to the World Wide Web in ever increasing numbers, usually by their parents, and usually without permission nor understanding from the child.
Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner (OCEC) senior education adviser Kellie Britnell said it was not uncommon for child pictures posted online, fully clothed or otherwise, to end up in the online hands of paedophiles.
“When our prohibited online content team that deals with child sexual abuse material goes searching for a URL they are given, they know that some of those images have been taken directly from social media sites,” she said.
“The kids don’t necessarily have to be naked, but put them in a library with a whole lot of other images … they are people that you don’t really want looking at your children’s photos.”
She said location technology connected to smartphones, photos and apps also risked handing over key information to predators about a child’s school, their outside engagements, and even their homes.
“When your child looks cute in a school uniform, that’s fine when it’s on your phone, but once you post it, you’re giving away lot of information, depending on your circle of friends, but also friends of friends, depending on your settings,” Ms Britnell said.
“We can say, only share it with people you know and trust, but we also know with a lot of these sites, people inadvertently can see photos that were never intended for them.”
Ms Britnell said parents usually posted pictures with the best of intentions but “the audience is wide and you don’t know who they are”.
“In some ways, this is a new world and people just have not had the time to think about how they could be violating their child’s rights to privacy,” she said.
Single parents are also increasingly using images of their children to advertise themselves on the dating app, Tinder.
Adelaide Family Law barrister and Law Society Council member Denise Rienets said the Family Court was likely to “frown very severely” upon parents posting child images on Tinder, although it was not considered a crime unless the images fell into the pornographic category.
“Sadly, it’s not a crime to be stupid,” she said.
“There is little if any time allowed for people to actually get to know others before disclosing vast amount of personal information.
“It’s such risk-taking behaviour these people are engaging in and I don’t know why you would want your children within cooee of it.”
Parent photos leading to school bullying
The Human Rights Commission is responsible for protecting child privacy rights in Australia — guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In 2008, the Australian Law Reform Commission released a report called Children, Young People and Attitudes to Privacy, which looked at whether the rights of young people were adequately protected.
The report found the public posting of non-sexual photographs of children could have serious implications for them and lead to consequences that included embarrassment, ridicule, bullying and invasion of privacy.
It found that while the publication of photos of a sexually exploitative nature was covered by criminal law, embarrassing childhood photos, even where the child was naked, was unlikely to fall into that category.
Earlier this year an 18-year-old woman in Austria successfully sued her parents for posting embarrassing baby photos of her on Facebook. The woman said she asked her parents to remove them, but they refused.
“Since the 2008 report, there has been an exponential growth in the use and pervasiveness of social media which would not have been foreseen at the time,” Ms Reinets said.
“The ability to control access to information and images published on social media is limited and can have a very serious impact on a child or young person and the person posting the information.”
Ms Rienets said there had been no applications or litigation in Australia “by a child or young person against a parent for the publication or dissemination of photographs that have caused embarrassment to that young person”.
“It is hoped that litigation by a child against a parent for posting photographs will not be necessary in Australia,” she said.
Parents post images for ‘approval’ from peers
Rita Princi, a clinical psychologist working with children and families in Adelaide, said parents were becoming “addicted” to posting pictures on the internet and were heavily influenced by the internet and social media.
“If someone else has put up a photo of their child, then they think they have to put up a photo as well to keep up,” she said.
She said other parents were at the opposite end where a sense of loneliness or a need to feel like they belonged was driving their behaviour.
“Or that they’re getting approval from others to say they’re doing a good job, or perhaps it’s their own need to get attention,” Ms Princi said.
“But I see teenagers who are battling eating disorders and body image problems because of photos on the internet.
“It might be cute now, however, later on, when they get 11 to 13 and they start to be more aware of how they look, you’re really creating an environment for children to start observing it very early.”
She said parents were actively condoning an early sense of body image in their children that was “scary”.
“I’m talking to a lot of teenagers at the moment about being safe on the internet, being careful on social media,” Ms Princi said.
“So when parents do this sort of behaviour … it’s reinforcing exactly what we’re trying to help steer teenagers through in this very difficult internet age.”
Ms Princi said parents needed guidelines or outlines to help them act with “common sense”, particularly in light of children being used “as pawns on Tinder”.
“If that needs to be legal, then perhaps that’s the case,” she said.
“It’s frightening to think people people could be exposed to these children and perhaps want to meet their parents because of that.”
Few options to have images removed
Facebook has provisions for a person who is being cyberbullied to have their images removed from the platform and other accounts blocked from seeing them.
But a spokesperson said the platform would not remove an image on behalf of a child whose parents refused to do it, just because the child considered it embarrassing.
Tinder did not respond to a request for comment.
A SAPOL spokesperson said police would only get involved if there was some sort of offence being committed by the photo.
“A 15-year-old boy wants a baby photo of him taken off of Facebook that his mum put on there — that might be a question for Facebook rather than any police or legal area,” he said.
OCEC has provisions to ask a social media site to act on cyber-bullying complaints but people are first required to ask the site itself to deal with an issue.
Ms Britnell said OCEC was unlikely to go after a parent who refused to remove pictures of their child from Facebook on the basis of embarrassment or the likelihood of it leading to bullying.
“Obviously, depending on the information we get in the complaint, the child might actually ask us to initiate the communication,” she said.
“You could legislate against a lot of things that are on the internet, but a lot of things are happening so quickly, and trends are emerging, that legislation’s not always going to stop people from doing things.”
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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