The Internet offers handy ways to share photos of children. Gone are the days of mailing individual reprints for each relative and friend. Now they can all instantly see images at once. However, others with less innocent motives than grandparents can also see the photos of children.
Many parents worry about posting photos of children on the Internet, but studies suggest the threat of online predation is not as serious as many believe. Here are some facts on online dangers regarding online photos of children, and a few guidelines for worried parents.
Dangers of Posting Photos of Children Online
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists three potential threats of posting online videos and photos of children. First, parents and youths may face criminal charges for posting sexual and inappropriate photos of children.
The second is strangers circulating and reposting your photos of children. A related danger is sexual predators getting hold of the photos of children and using them to approach children. This is clearly the most serious concern of worried parents.
The Crimes against Children Research Center reports the threat of online predation is often exaggerated. The center’s goal "is to combat crimes against children by providing high-quality research and statistics," and it takes crimes against youths seriously.
The group disputes a frequently cited statistic suggesting 13 percent of U.S. youths have been sexually solicited by online predators. The CCRC said the figure includes all youth who are asked about sex or sent suggestive photos, even if questions and photos come from friends or are simply brief, suggestive comments in online forums or instant messaging sites.
Half the sexual messages and photos came from other youths and friends. Only four percent of youths considered the situations serious or threatening, and most said they left the website or believe they otherwise easily ended the situation without an escalated threat. A statistically insignificant number of youths in the study were sexually victimized by an online predator, the CCRC said.
Further, another CCRC study showed a 500-percent increase from 2000 to 2006 in arrests of online predators who unwittingly solicited law enforcement officers posing as juveniles.
Internet Safety Tips for Concerned Parents
Clearly, the figures suggest some threats to posting photos of children online, but the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers some simple guidelines for worried parents to minimize risk.
• Be cautious about posting full names or personal information with the photos of children. For example, worried parents should not post photos of children with a visible address in the background and don’t post full names in the captions.
• Worried parents should talk to children and teens before allowing them to post photos online. Caution them about the legal ramifications of posting some photos, and remind them to follow the grandma rule: Ask yourself if you would be embarrassed if grandma saw the photo.
• Youths and worried parents should use private gallery settings in photo-sharing sites. Likewise, use private settings on social networking sites, restricting access to profiles and images only to trusted friends. The CCRC found no evidence of sexual solicitations based on photos of children or information they posted at social networking sites.
• Remember that most information and photos of children on the Internet are public and permanent.
• If any kind of solicitation occurs, save all emails and records of other communication and contact law enforcement.
• Finally, worried parents should remember others may “favorite” photos of children or email them to friends. While it may be disturbing, the stranger may simply find the photo funny or artistic and may have no negative motives.