Opening the Conversation
Family photos posted online are stolen for identity theft and sexualization. The University of Florida's Stacey Steinberg is trying to help.
“50% of all images on pedophile image-sharing sites had originated on family blogs and on social media,” according to the eSafety commissioner of Australia (Brown). While checking in on child abuse complaints, a group of investigators came across tens of millions of images of children doing ordinary activities with sexual comments (Richards). Not every parent seeks to harm their child, but ignorantly making one’s child susceptible to the dangers that come with social media is an under-discussed issue.
Parents have autonomy and the right to share what they like. Additionally, parents have the responsibility of protecting their children and protecting their child’s right to privacy. According to Stacey Steinberg, the director of Gator Teamchild Juvenile Law Clinic, the director of Center on Children and Families, and the author of Sharenting: Children 's Privacy in the Age of Social Media, the term used that connects these two seemingly opposing rights and responsibilities is called “sharenting” (Steinberg 2). When a video or picture is posted publicly online it is accessible to virtually anyone, good and bad. The public image and digital footprint of the child is being molded by the person showing them to
the world. “We don’t know how that [posts online] will impact their ability to get jobs in the
future, health insurance, [and] how it might make up [how] potential life partners see them. It can be very dangerous,” states Professor Steinberg in a serious tone. Several aspects of life can be changed by what parents decide to share online. This would not be an issue if only a few events were shared or if parents thought a little more if a moment should become eternal before posting. However, most parents do not understand what can truly be at stake and are blinded by the desire to share what they love. According to a Barclay study, "By age 5 the average kid has 1,500 photos of them online” (“Why Kids Are Confronting”). That number just continues to grow as the child does, which makes a child more susceptible to identity theft, bullying, and sexual exploitation. The New York Times published a video to Youtube in 2019 saying, "By 2030 'sharenting' could account for up to 7 million incidents of identity theft and over $800 million in online fraud" (“Why Kids Are Confronting”).
"By age 5 the average kid has 1,500 photos of them online.”
People love their rights, so when one gets seemingly close to being violated they do everything in their power to protect that right. They usually close their ears and open their mouths to drown out the noise of compromise. Additionally, the current generation is growing up with little research in regards to being on social media, specifically in regards to having someone else curate your own public image. Maybe social media will become the modern day cigarette, meaning one day people might gawk at the absurdity of our behavior. Things will not get better if there continues to be a lack of research around “sharenting.” Also, there will be no improvement if people do not make an effort to listen or the conversation is not initiated. The research we do have, coupled with the testimonies of children that currently are or have previously lived with parents who are exercising their right to share, are showing negative consequences.
Some people are trying to initiate the conversation, educate others on these potential risks, and provide ways to better balance the rights of the parent and the rights of the child. Mentioned earlier is one such person, Professor Steinberg. She teaches a class called “Child, Parent, and State” at the University of Florida, which talks about the conflicts that can arise between a child and their parent. Children’s privacy, “sharenting,” and social media are just a few of the things she has an expertise in. Other ways she sparks a discussion on “sharenting” is through panels, talking to the media, and through her book on “sharenting.” She is a kind, yet straightforward woman, and has been published in The New York Times and on several occasions in The Washington Post. Another specific way she brings the public's attention to “sharenting” is through her Ted Talk, which currently has five thousand views. During the Ted Talk, she provides ways for children to be better protected on social media.
Professor Steinberg, devoid of her usual glasses and wearing a plain black dress, projects a list of five things to consider. The first one is about giving kids the power to veto a potential post. A child can feel just as embarrassed or sexualized as an adult in what is revealed about them to the world. Images can be intimate, and people want the right to not be viewed by outsiders in those personal moments. Being seen by family or friends is different than being viewed by a stranger. Secondly, Professor Steinberg stresses the importance of knowing how to determine what are real memories and what are highlights. It is important to not allow parents to inadvertently steal away the real bonding moments for a few likes from strangers. Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, “we need more research to understand the risks of oversharing,” she states (“How parents can share smarter”). Coupled with the third proposition, the fourth suggests that “we may need legal remedies for kids” (“How parents can share smarter"). Some serious strides need to be made socially and politically because the world we once lived in is rapidly changing and we are going in partially blind. Countries in the EU recognize something called “The Right to be Forgotten,” which has been talked about more recently. “The right to be forgotten is a legal doctrine that recognizes that after information is shared at a certain point it might not any longer be relevant to the person's reputation or to their name,” states Professor Steinberg, as she slowly sways from side to side (“How parents can share”). This doctrine would allow parents to share and exercise their first amendment right, but also allow the child to have their own autonomy. However, it is not established in the U.S. because of how strong free speech is, explains Professor Steinberg. She goes on to say that exceptions to the law can be made and should be discussed because it could greatly help in the protection of children (“How parents can share”).
Lastly, she says that it is important to see what good can come from posting. She makes similar suggestions to the ones in her Ted Talk in her book, particular wording being “caution” or “consider.” Additionally, the majority of the book is on what other people have to say about “sharenting” and what the research we do have is showing. She doesn’t claim to be an expert on what to or not to share because she still struggles herself, being a mother of three (Steinberg). In all that she does, being a photographer, supervising attorney, and law professor, she ultimately educates and prompts parents to look at and advocate for more research in the area of “sharenting,” so that parents can navigate the world of social media and better protect their children.
Brown, Nicci. “Sharing Photos of Your Kids Online? Here’s What You Should Consider.”
UF News, 14 Dec. 2021, https://news.ufl.edu/2021/12/from-florida-episode-14/.
"How parents can share smarter on social media" YouTube, uploaded by TEDx Talks, 7
Jan. 2022, https://youtu.be/uNbonhBgW_Q
Richards, Victoria. “Paedophile Websites Steal Half Their Photos from Social Media
Sites like Facebook.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 30 Sept. 2015, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/paedophile-
Sims, Lauren. Personal interview. 11 April 2023.
“Stacey Steinberg.” Levin College of Law, University of Florida, 13 Apr. 2023,
Steinberg, Stacey B. Sharenting: Children 's Privacy in the Age of Social Media. Sourcebooks, 2020.
“Why Kids Are Confronting Their Parents About 'Sharenting” Youtube, uploaded by The New York Times, 7 Aug. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRPUZ3pufAg