Yes, Virginia, you can share photos of your kids online.
Swarms of carpenter ants—big, shiny, crunchy buggers—rattle around within the walls of beloved spaces and communities. Voyeurs, trawlers, trolls. Anonymous pedophiles who drive around the internet in metaphorical windowless cube vans adored with airbrushed wolves. We suspect they may be in our vicinity but don’t really know for sure until they find a crack, creepy-crawling into the cozy glow of our intimate gatherings and making us all scatter and curse.
The only way to keep your children safe is to never post pictures online! some shriek, meaning well but inspiring more paranoia than good sense. Without living off the grid—which is what you’d need to do to escape the pervasiveness of the web, not to mention all the unqualified and unknown eyeballs outside your real-life front door—is sensible sharing in the Internet age an oxymoron?
A friend of mine and social media guru who designs software for the internet puts it this way: “To suggest that the Internet is inherently unsafe is like putting a ban on hugging because it may spread disease—it’s a near-tragic overstatement. It would have us be less joyful and less connected when it’s absolutely possible to be safe online.”
He’s right. So let’s settle down, breathe deeply and figure out how to do this responsibly.
Not that there's anything wrong with that: making what's public 'more private'
It’s easy to share online cautiously. The simplest way? Lock down your images—either on your blog, or on a site like Flickr—to private or password-protected.
Yeah, I see you. You’re screwing up your forehead. You’re pouting. You don’t want quite that much lock-down. Me too. Let’s try that again.
First, know this. The Facebooks and Flickrs of the world exist with the express purpose of connecting everyone to everyone. Their business models rely on generating traffic, and on the selling of data and advertising. In these universes, the more photos and profiles that are public and tagged, the better—that’s how they get paid.
Because of this, membership on most sites defaults to let everyone see! let everyone search! share share share! and it’s up to you to redraw the boundaries. With so many of us having blogs and active online lives—and wanting to share with virtual friends and readers as well as those in real-life—what’s more important than limiting who finds us is limiting how someone finds us. By limiting the how, you limit the who.
With that in mind, here’s what to do.
- In Flickr, login and go to My Account > Privacy and Permissions. You’ll see an extensive list of tweaks—in every case, choose to hide yourself, giving access to ‘Only You’ wherever possible (for instance, ‘Only You’ should be able to download your images, or share or blog about them). Here is where you can also choose to share only with people you’ve marked as ‘family and friends’—this makes your stream private, but requires any viewers to have flickr accounts, which can be an obstacle to sharing (read on for how to make technically ‘public’ photos safer).
- Under My Account > Privacy & Permissions, choose to hide your photos and your profile from public searches on flickr.com and third-party sites. This is important. This means that people searching randomly for photos of kids will not find yours.
- Do not use descriptive tags, which are intended to make public searches easier. Be very careful in what you include in descriptive titles or descriptions.
- Do not participate in flickr groups which others can browse by interest (i.e. children, child portrait photography).
- Use common sense. If the internet skeeves you out, which it should to some degree, don’t share a photo of your toddler in her panties, or your boy aiming for a cheerio in the potty. Just don’t. Save the adorable bums and bathtimes for grandma’s brick-and-mortar photo album.
'Under-the-radar' sharing at-work
I’ve got a public flickr stream connected to my blog. It’s fully public, but with all the settings described above. People find my blog first, and then my photos.
I’ve also got a second ‘under-the-radar’ flickrstream—it’s public for easy sharing (I can send the link around without futzing with passwords or site memberships), but it has all the settings listed above and I do not promote it. That’s where I upload photos that include other peoples’ children, or snapshots just for the family. The only people who see those images are people that have the link, as accounted for in the stats and reference links for each photo. I’ve controlled the how of that account’s findability—and furthermore, the who.
My social media/software-building guru-friend describes the internet as “nothing more than a transport protocol, just like the four wheels of a car.” While it makes sharing ‘go’, it is not an inherently bad thing. It adopts whatever behavioural and environmental capabilities are applied to it.
Some people drive recklessly. Search flickr for ‘naked’, ‘panties’ and ‘children’ and you’ll see the flip side of these lessons embodied for yourself, courtesy of parents who don’t know any better. So get out there, and take those impish grins with you. Just don’t be careless about it. Cool? Cool.
How do you feel about sharing photos of your kids online? How do you compromise? What are your play-safe rules?