Sharing family pictures online safely is important for parents to be aware of and take necessary precautions. We teach our kids how to “stay safe online” but what about us parents? I’ve heard of this before, but the other day, this headline caught my attention and this time I didn’t ignore it: Millions of social media photos found on child exploitation sharing sites.
Aside from child exploitation, online pictures of children have also been used in other types of “virtual or digital kidnapping” cases where young girls “innocently” steal other people’s photos of their kids and pretend those kids are their children. Weird but it happens.
Here are a few suggested precautions we've taken for my public blog to consider.
Tips for Blogging Safely and Protecting Family Privacy Online:
1. No full names.
As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t use my full name (Marie would be a cool last name though), and I never use my family’s names either. Which is good because I always forget who is who anyway.
“You, boy, there, come here…no the other boy. Go get what’s her name, your sister.”
I admit this has been hard for me not to share my own last name, especially as I get into writing projects where I’d prefer to use my full name as the author. But in a way, it’s also been a blessing as it keeps me humble.
2. No Family Pictures
Or at least no pictures of our kids full faces after they are old enough to not look like babies anymore.
This is hard, oh so hard. Like any parent, I’m pretty proud of my kids and I want to share their good moments, and their dumb moments, with friends and family, especially with those who live far away or I don’t get to see often.
But listen, there are people out there who, maybe by no fault of their own, suffer from a terrible disordered illness. And they will take any picture – as innocent as I might think it is – and use it in a way I never, ever, ever, ever could or would want to imagine.
And if you think this can’t happen to you, it can.
It happened here like I shared – Millions of social media photos found on child exploitation sharing sites and it happened to Kierste at Simply Kierste –
When I checked the stats on blogger, which shows the referring and entering url addresses of those coming to my blog, I noticed one url in particular that I didn’t recognize, with 40+ hits every day for a couple of weeks. That’s a lot for my little family blog! Despite it being a very normal url address–nothing to indicate anything pornographic–I had the shock of my life when I clicked on it, and saw what was there. I won’t give details, but it was horrible. I quickly realized after a little investigation, that somehow photos of my family and kids had ended up on that site, along with the link, and people were coming from that site over to mine. The improbable had happened. It was a huge wake-up call!!!
In that same post, Kierste shares some great tips on how to safeguard your family’s online photo safety which are similar to measures I’ve taken.
It should also go without saying that we should ask people permission before sharing their picture – or their children’s – pictures online. Again, Ms. Hypocrite over here, even I have done this stupidly and I am sorry now for not thinking about their personal privacy before sharing or tagging. (Forgive me if I’ve done this to you!)
3. No Personal Information
This should go without saying but I see it all the time still: A picture of a child, maybe in their school uniform, on their front porch where their address is. The sidebar “About me” tells where they live so it wouldn’t be too difficult to deduce where to find this child. I’ve also seen people share pictures that include information about medical doctors, school teachers, when and where they go to school, their sports teams, etc, etc.
Oh and it’s probably best to avoid announcing to the world where you live, when you or your children will be out of town and where they are going or what yours or their daily schedule is like. (Who really needs to know that information anyway?)
Even I’ve made mistakes like these so I’ll be the first to call myself a hypocrite. I’ve gotten better at blotting out licence plate numbers, house addresses, and excluding any other private information that could be used against our family’s safety.
Even then, I know if someone really wanted to find us, they would. But that doesn’t mean I need to make it any easier.
4. Think before Sharing
A good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t share the info on your blog with a strange guy on a dark street, don’t post it for the public.
Blogging is a great outlet for moms especially to share our struggles, our joys, what’s working and what’s most decidedly not working. It’s also very tempting to use blogging and social media as a form of venting…to the world wide web. I’m the first to admit I’ve done my fair share of whining on this blog, some of which I now regret sharing.
It's true that good writing often requires us to become vulnerable. Yet, while it may be one thing to choose to let ourselves become vulnerable, it’s not ok to make our children or husbands vulnerable without their informed consent.
I’ve made many mistakes and my foot is permanently in my mouth but I’m trying to share and write more responsibly and think outside of how I feel in the current moment. I have to remember, “what goes on the internet stays on the internet.”
If I wouldn’t stand up in front of a million people and share something, I probably shouldn’t post it online either (where potentially a million people could also see it.)
Right now, when my kids are young, writing about them is writing about me. But, I also have to remember they are individual people who will grow up to be adults one day. I might think it’s helpful to vent publicly about potty training woes from when my kids were little but when the kids get older they might not think it’s so funny when one of their classmates finds that same post – and pictures of them sitting on the potty – when they are in middle school and use it to bully him or her.
5. Public or Private
So here’s the question you have to ask yourself. Why am I blogging?
Do you want to share a photographic journal of your family life with your close family and trusted friends only? If so, the only way to truly ensure only your close family and trusted friends will see your blog is by making it private, by invitation-only. I know it’s annoying but that’s the way it is.
If your goals and audience for blogging extend beyond close family and trusted friends and you want to keep your blog public, keep in mind that this means anyone – anyone – can find it and see it and do anything they want with your content and pictures – even without your permission or awareness.
I had given up checking my blog stats (because I don’t want to blog for the stats anymore) but I have started to at least keep an eye on the referring links more, just to make sure no one is coming here from any bad sites. I use StatCounter for more specific info about who is coming to my site and from where.
If you keep your blog public and share a lot of personal pictures and information, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on those referring links. But keep in mind, even the best stats and spam filters can’t catch everything.
6. Pray and Trust
It’s easy to become fearful when we read about things like this. And I apologize if this is how I’ve made you feel, that certainly isn’t my intent.
I often think that maybe Rapunzel’s evil step-mother might have had the right idea to keep her locked away from “the dangers of the world”. But I know that, as bad as people out there can be, this world is also filled with abundant beauty and puregoodness.
As parents, we can only do as much as we realistically can to protect our children and our family. We put our family into God’s hands and hope and trust that He will guide us and our children to make wise, healthy, and safe choices for ourselves and our family. And, should we make a mistake, He will be there to “deliver us from evil.”
I'd love to know others thoughts on this? How do you tackle sharing pictures of your family online safely?
Copyright 2015 Erika Marie; full content originally shared at onesimplemama.com
Image copyright 2015 Erika Marie. All rights reserved.