On a recent visit to a mall, I witnessed a ‘cute’ toddler being photographed by her parents, a very common sight when families go out nowadays. The mother was instructing the child to pose in front of the glass case of a toy shop, while the father was clicking her pictures.
I would not have thought much about the incident had I not happened to overhear what the parents planned to do with their daughter’s photographs. They were planning to upload and share her pictures on Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp with their friends and relatives. Now, one may ask what is the harm in sharing personal memories over social media. After all, everyone does that nowadays, and virtual world is flooded with millions of images. So, let me share with you, especially parents and teens, some serious notes about what may happen on the digital platform.
Every picture circulating on the digital platform can be viewed and downloaded especially in cases where these photos are shared by the viewers to their respective friends or when such friends of friends access such pictures through the friend's profiles. These pictures are then shared again, in the original or edited form; although most websites nowadays have strict policies and safety settings for protecting the content uploaded by users and prevent them from being misused. These safety settings can be activated by users to safeguard their privacy. But like every other security system, activating safety setting isn’t a foolproof way of securing your privacy and there are chances that someone may breach it.
Online negative socialising:
Based on my observations of the trend of sharing photographs online, I have developed the concept of online negative socialising. This concept explains how our harmless-looking, fun-loving online social circle can turn out to be extremely dangerous. All of us who are active on social media know that we have a circle of friends who, in turn, have their own network of friends, who in turn their own. The list is endless! With such a wide network, you can never know who may access a photo or video, or anything you upload, and for what purpose. The year 2015 saw some shocking cases of perfectly normal pictures of children being misused by online predators. Most of these pictures belonged to children aged two to ten, who do not have a say in the decisions their parents take. As such, their photographs would have been uploaded and shared by proud, loving parents who just wanted to show others how beautiful their children were. But some of these pictures passed from one port to another and finally showed up on a Facebook page with obscene remarks. This is one of the worst examples of negative socialising where images that may have been shared multiple times by multiple users were misused.
But does that mean that social media or digital communication platforms should never be used to upload and share pictures of children? I don’t think so.
Before sharing pictures of their children online, parents should keep in mind a couple of things:
- First, parents should be selective in uploading and sharing pictures of their children online. They should avoid uploading pictures of children in wet clothes, swimsuits, or bathing in private or public places including waterfalls, water parks, beaches, ponds, swimming pools, etc. No matter how ‘sweet’ the child may look to the parents, not everyone may look at the child with the same love and affection.
- Similarly, avoid sharing pictures of children when they are not properly or fully clothed. These may attract the attention of paedophiles.
Laws to protect children’s online privacy:
In India, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and Information Technology Act, 2000 (amended in 2008) were enacted to protect children from abuse.
These laws prohibit and punish the creation and dissemination of certain categories of pictures of children. Both these laws consider a wide range of actions as offences. Those who publish, circulate or produce pictures that may harm the bodily and digital privacy of children can be booked under these laws. Hence, the responsibility of not sharing pictures of children that can be misused rests with parents in a majority of cases.
Also, parents should learn to respect their children’s desire of being photographed or not. Only share pictures of children taken with the family members or parents rather than solo ones. This way, the predators will know that the child is in a protected environment. But even after taking all the precautions, if you ever find that the image of your child has been misused, do not hesitate to report the matter to the website concerned. All the websites have special policies for protecting child rights, failing which they can be prosecuted and punished.
As a society, if we stand strong and united against the online perpetrators of child abuse, we can ensure the safety of our children and their rights and make the virtual world a safer place for all.
Dr Debarati Halder is the honorary Managing Director of Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling. She is also the founder secretary of South Asian Society of Criminology and Victimology. Presently, she is working as Research Officer in Unitedworld School of Law, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org /email@example.com