With the news that Facebook exposed data on 50 million users to the political research company Cambridge Analytica and routinely sells information to countless advertisers, we can no longer deny that we have very little privacy if we use social media. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been in congressional hearings about why the company did little to protect users' data.
As adults, we're free to make decisions about which personal details we share publicly and on which social media platforms. But when it comes to our children and grandchildren, we need to be especially selective and cautious.
Let's face it, parents and grandparents love to brag about their kids by sharing pictures of nearly everything they do. It's so common, there's even a term for it – sharenting! It's when parents share way too much information about their kids with way too many people.
Although we might think of this as an annoying, but harmless, hobby, it isn't.
On a recent Today Show, investigative reporter Jeff Rossen visited a family with young children on the premise of talking about social media usage. What the mother didn't know was that a cyber safety expert was searching her Facebook page. In a very short time, the expert learned the names of her husband, her children, their schools, teachers, and babysitter. More frightening, because of geotagging – which gives the location where photos were taken – she was able to find exactly where they went, including their favorite playgrounds.
The oversharing of information has given rise to a new phenomenon, dubbed "digital kidnapping." This happens when someone reposts a child's photo as their own across a variety of social media. The "photonappers" take pleasure in the number of likes and comments they receive. There are even people using the pictures to participate in role playing games, creating fantasy lives. These sites can sometimes be identified with the hashtags #adoptionrp, #orphanrp, and #babyrp.
Does this mean we should never post pictures of our kids? Of course not. What it does mean is we have to be smart about it. Rossen suggests:
You should also consider not posting photos that give away identifying details, such as your child wearing a school T-shirt or standing next to the front door or mailbox showing your house number.