Snap Happy: A response to Rosemary McCabe’s article on online child safety

Last week a blog post appeared in many of our newsfeeds that generated a strong reaction from parents and non-parents alike. 

It was a piece on the dangers of sharing pictures of children online, written by Rosemary McCabe, a freelance journalist who writes mostly about beauty and fashion. I’m not going to link to her piece but it was entitled “Get your kids off Snapchat, please- for their sakes (and mine)”. 

And you might wonder why would anyone object to a piece on child protection online. As parents is it not one of the most important challenges we face today? Shouldn’t we welcome any information that helps us navigate the digital minefield and keep our kids safe online? Of course. But that wasn’t her intent. 

What was posted was a thinly guised clickbait piece designed to boost traffic and create a flurry of social media commentary. And it succeeded. 

The intent of this piece was to scaremonger, to ridicule those who share pictures online and to devalue parenthood. 

Control 

Firstly the author declares she happily views pictures and videos of children by fellow bloggers/friends/family online and enjoys some of them. What she doesn’t understand however is the plea some parents make for followers to refrain from screen grabbing these images. Why have them online at all? she wonders.

And the answer to that one is simple: Control.

Parents are the ones who are in control of what content they share, who they share it with and when. With a snap it’s generally a ten second video clip or series of clips that last no longer than 24 hours online. Insta-stories on Instagram is similar. When someone else, be it friend or stranger takes a screen-grab of that content, the control is removed from the parent. It is a perfectly reasonable request from a parent to ask others not to screen-grab images of their children and one that should be respected.

The decision of the parent to put their children online in any way shape or form is a separate issue. 

Scaremongering

Next the author concludes from her extensive research (an online article in the Guardian) that having pictures of children online is very unlikely to do harm to the children themselves and in fact she states she’s not actually worried about the kids at all. 

Then contrary to the above she contemplates the existence of a Snapchat paedophile ring. She further elaborates on the ease of which such a ring could be set up and a child abduction executed. She imagines a situation in which she could lure a child away from his or her guardian based on all the information she has gathered from Snapchat. 

This is horrifying and the mere mention of it was intended to scaremonger and induce anxiety in every parent who read it. 

It is every parent’s worst nightmare. Is it a real danger for parents who share information about their children online? Perhaps. Is child abduction a potential danger for all parents regardless of their online activities? Yes.

Numerous controlled social experiments have shown the ease at which children can be lured away from safety. In one such experiment the children are lured away from a playground by a stranger with a puppy. He didn’t know their names, their likes, dislikes or anything about their family. He didn’t have to even ask their names, he simply shows them the dog, starts a conversation and asks them do they want to come see more puppies.

It is our responsibility as parents to remain vigilant at all times with our children and our responsibility to talk to our children about situations that could endanger them. We also have a responsibility to discuss the meaning of healthy social relationships, how to show respect and kindness and set personal and digital boundaries. 

We take our responsibilities as parents very seriously and try our best to protect our children. What commentators shouldn’t do is scaremonger. It doesn’t help anyone.

The digital footprint

This is the first generation of parents who share our daily lives online in the manner and scale that we do. Facebook didn’t exist eleven years ago. Instagram is seven years old and Snapchat five. What will these platforms look like in another ten years when our kids are teenagers? Nobody knows. One can of course speculate about how the digitalisation of our lives may be detrimental to our children’s future employment, relationships and mental health. But it is purely that: speculation. 

Will a picture of a cute two year old online really damage the future career of a budding politician? Will that family holiday snap exclude a computer scientist from working in cyber security? Will these platforms even exist in the future? 

Or will it be the norm? Even today a recruiter who does not find an online LinkedIn profile for a potential employee will question their credentials. 

Practice what you preach

Rosemary states that the moment we publish imagery of our children online we have effectively denied them the right to anonymity, to privacy, and she thinks that’s indefensible. She questions whether this is really in their best interests. Her biggest gripe she reveals is taking consent away from the child.

So I put this to her on social media to see why she too has shared images of a young relative to her 40+K Instagram followers? Did she seek the consent of the one year old she posted an image of? Why did she geo-tag his location, state his name and age in the caption if she genuinely feels this will endanger his anonymity? 

Of course these questions went unanswered. She did reply stating that she didn’t intend to offend anyone and was simply trying to open a dialogue on the topic of online child safety. 

Missing the point

And this is my frustration with the article. If Rosemary honestly wanted to open a dialogue on the serious topic of child safety online without scaremongering parents, without ridiculing their valid requests or devaluing their parental decisions, she might have stopped for a minute to take a look at what is already being discussed. She would have muted the aggressive and condescending tone.

Parents are having this dialogue with teachers in the schools and with our children in our homes on an ongoing basis. We seek guidance from each other in parenting groups. We discuss boundaries and privacy. We share tips and advice. Tips like removing geo-tag locations from posts and not sharing detailed information about our children that a potential identity thief may find useful in the future. We are actively and constructively talking about consent and anonymity. 

The community police regularly visit schools to speak about the issues of digital footprints and about what to share online. Our TD’s are holding meetings for parents to educate them on how to protect our children in all aspects of life. There are workshops and seminars on the topic. There are countless online resources and websites dedicated to helping us stay informed and up to date. 

We are dealing with it. We are debating it. We are making progress. 

We are advancing every day in a productive and non-judgemental manner. We aim to help each other stay safe online, not to criticise or berate. So let’s keep the dialogue going in a positive way. Let’s stay focused on the real dangers and avoid speculation and scaremongering and try our best to ignore the clickbait. 

 

Useful links on child safety online:

www.cybersafeireland.org

www.kidpower.org

www.reachout.com

www.internetsafety.ie

www.ispcc.ie

www.makeitsecure.ie

www.parenting.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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