Your kid is standing next to the birthday boy as his dad snaps a picture. Next thing you know, there’s your kid, grinning on Facebook, under the update: “Pix from Jackson’s Birthday!” Does this make you:
1 – Smile
2 – Shrug
If you replied 1 or 2, this column is not for you. But if you’re screaming because you feel angry or scared, read on.
The idea that posting kids’ pictures to social media turns them into pervert prey is, thank goodness, unfounded. Yes, of course it can feel unsettling to see your kid out there in “public,” especially if the posting parents didn’t ask your permission — and perhaps even moreso if they tag him/her. That’s considered rude, at the very least. (Although personally it wouldn’t bother me. I think we’ve been sensitized to feel slights where none are meant.)
Anyway, rude or not, it is not endangering, says David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. He studies child abuse of all stripes, including crimes that start online. He understands that parents worry about predators stalking cute kids they glimpse on social media. “But the idea that they [use Facebook] like an LL Bean catalog to pick out a victim — that’s just too far from the way in which they operate,” he says.
Predators Are Just Like Us
No matter how heinous, predators are like the rest of us in one way: They don’t want to waste their time. To pick a random kid and then track him/her down using clues from the picture, or location embedded in a photo’s metadata — as this site warns parents about — is a process Finkelhor dubs “low yield.” It’s like opening up the phone book and dialing random numbers for a date. It’s just about the least likely way to score, and even lowlifes know it. The Polly Klass Foundation reports that murder of a child by a stranger is “a rare event,” and accounts for less than one half of one percent of all murders.
Likewise, parents worried about posting baby photos online shouldn’t worry that this increases the chance that they’ll be snatched. It doesn’t, even though some families have been torn apart by relatives who want to post pictures versus new parents furious at the exposure. As one mom wrote on a baby blog to her mom, “Stop posting pics of my baby!”
The vast majority of crimes against children — even kidnappings — are committed by people they know. So really, “It’s a privacy issue, not a predator issue,” says Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute in D.C. That is, if you don’t want your child’s photo online, your friends and family should respect your wishes, same as any other privacy request you’d make. (“Don’t come into the bathroom without knocking!”) On the flip side, “There’s a growing etiquette to simply asking permission,” Balkam says. Ideally, whoever’s taking the photo should ask, “Do you mind if I post this picture of your daughter because she’s next to my son?'” Some parents will say yes, some will say sure — but don’t tag it, and some will say no. The photographer should defer to the parents.
“Parents are absolutely justified in wanting a sense of control over how public their children are and how they’re viewed,” says Anne Collier, do-director of ConnectSafely.org. “It probably goes back to cave drawings: ‘Don’t put my daughter on the wall of the public cave!'”
But if for some reason your child’s face, or name, or both, end up on someone else’s Facebook page, looking so adorable you can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t want to stalk her — imagine something else. Because it’s not going to happen.
Child abductions loom large in our imagination, because we feel surrounded by violence. Studies show the majority of us believe crime is going up up up. But in reality, The violent crime rate in America today is just one third of what it was as recently as 1994. One third! So instead of dreaming up new dangers, let’s celebrate the fact our kids get to grow up so safe.
And maybe even post a picture them smiling.