Back in May, we explored some of the nuances and ethics of Instagramming photos of your kids. Through that discussion we heard from many of you and one of the topics that we thought warranted further investigation is the specificity of posting photos of our children in varying degrees of undress on Instagram and beyond.
Babies born to millennial iPhone-fluent parents have a digital footprint by birth. The (now well-worn) mantra “pics, or it didn’t happen,” is fully embraced in the Age of Instagram. If users find their fish tacos worthy of documentation, then it is to be expected (and hoped) that the same (or greater) enthusiasm will be applied to the milestones of their offspring. In the early days, months, and years, one thing offspring tend to enjoy universally is nudity. Clothes are restricting, and socially it is becoming more acceptable for young children to enjoy life in varying degrees of undress.
When this benign nudity coincides with social media, trouble brews. NPR warned last year of a myriad of frightening and sickening ends your child’s digital photos could meet, including: identity theft, role play adoptions, embarrassment, bullying by peers, digital kidnapping, and of course, child pornography. When your child’s naked photo isn’t virtually abducted by creeps, you can run the common risk of being trolled by online vigilantes who, in the name of protecting all children, will shame you into removing a personal and innocently posted photo. As with every aspect of parenting, the topic of child nudity (or partial nudity) on social media is highly personal and nuanced.
Instagram and Facebook are both confusingly vague in their address of nudity on the sites. Buttocks are ok, but not close up. No penises, no vaginas. Boobs are ok if they are nursing a babe, or have mastectomy scarring. Male boobs are bewilderingly accepted in all states. Celebrities can post whatever they want. Art needs to be tasteful. For our purposes, Instagram unhelpfully offers this vague guidelines:
- People like to share photos or videos of their children. For safety reasons, there are times when we may remove images that show nude or partially-nude children. Even when this content is shared with good intentions, it could be used by others in unanticipated ways.
Partial or obscured nudity is not against their guidelines, per se, but they reserve the right to remove it if they feel like things are getting weird. Makes sense. Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) is more explicit :
- We remove content that threatens or promotes sexual violence or exploitation. This includes the sexual exploitation of minors, and sexual assault. To protect victims and survivors, we also remove photographs or videos depicting incidents of sexual violence and images shared in revenge or without permissions from the people in the images.
Under neither guideline is posting tasteful photos of your half naked children prohibited. They defer to the good judgement of the parent, while retaining the right to remove anything at anytime.
The C.S. Mott National Poll of Children’s Health found that 68% of parents are concerned about the fate of their child’s digital image. It is estimated in one informal Australian study that about half of the photos posted to child pornography sites are sourced directly from social media. These are not exclusively nude photos of kids. In fact the majority are of children clothed and innocently playing. Photos are cropped, photoshopped, and accompanied by unimaginably terrible text and comment. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) says explicitly in their pages of warnings to parents that “the only way to ensure that no one is using and saving your images is to avoid uploading them to the internet.”
The act of sharing photos is an integral benefit of parenting in the 21st century. A formidable 92% of children under the age of two have extensively documented digital lives. The Mott poll found that 72% of parents that share photos of their children online said that the act made them feel “less alone,” provided them with helpful advice, and decreased general parenting anxiety. Keeping your child’s image (partially naked or clothed) off of the internet would be a full time job, including monitoring family, in-laws, and other parents, etc. It would take away from an invaluable modern benefit of being able to crowdsource parenting problems, vent, and share photos of kiddos with loved ones from afar.
In order to navigate this seemingly impossible dichotomy here are a few tips:
- Stop judgement of other parents: Unless the behavior is explicitly inappropriate, leave judgement off the comments and consider a cardinal parenting rule: thou shalt try not to judge other parents.
- It takes a village: Help other parents. If you come across a photo of a child that is in itself sexually explicit, or is accompanied by disturbing comments, tags, and associated accounts REPORT IT.
- Report Instagram photos directly through the “…” at the top right of a photo. Follow the prompts.
- Report Facebook photos directly through the photo in question by hovering over it and selecting the “Options” tab. Click on this, and “report” photo. Follow the prompts.
- Social Media platforms are required to pass along all reports on to the NCMEC, but it is worth double-reporting through the Cybertipline.
- Scrub the hashtags: Avoid hashtags that creeps may use to find photos of young children (like #5years and #mygirl etc..).
- Think about their future desire for digital privacy: When posting photos of children think about their future desire for control and privacy. If in doubt, perhaps it’s best for a family album.
There is a learning curve to parenting in relation to social media use that can feel uncomfortably steep in contrast to the fast pace with which technology evolves. It is important to take time to reflect on our use on an individual level, and proceed on these platforms in an intentional manner. If done thoughtfully parents will be better able to keep their kids safe and still revel in the glory of parenting in the Age of Instagram.
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