The impact of sharenting: Nurturing a digital identity that echoes into the future

By Zakir Hussain, CEO – BD Software Distribution

In the age of social media, the term sharenting has emerged as a phenomenon that blends the act of sharing with the responsibilities of parenting. This practice involves parents sharing pictures and videos of their children on various social media platforms. While seemingly harmless, sharenting carries significant implications for the digital identity of children, shaping a narrative that begins before they even enter the world.

Children’s digital identity: Born before them
A child’s digital identity takes shape with the first online post about them. This might be a
pregnancy announcement or an ultrasound picture shared on social media. From that point forward, parents weave a digital tapestry for their children, layer by layer, with each post
contributing new details – from the child’s name and age to their preferences, interests, and even moments of tantrums.

As parents chronicle their children’s lives on public social media profiles, this wealth of information becomes accessible to anyone, potentially susceptible to misuse, especially in the event of a breach in parental online accounts.

Potential pitfalls of sharenting: A call for mindful sharing
Revealing too much: Sharing images of children can inadvertently expose them to harmful consequences, including potential contact with child predators. Digital photographs harbor hidden data such as location, time, and interests, which can be exploited by malicious actors. Geotags, for instance, allow predators to track a child’s real-time location, especially if the parent’s profile is public. Videos and photos posted on social
networks can be hijacked to create fake profiles or distributed on less-savory networks.

Furthermore, these materials can be used to train artificial intelligence, leading to the
creation of convincing clones that scammers can use to deceive parents.

Children’s digital identity theft: Contrary to common belief, children’s digital identities
are tempting targets for cybercriminals. A child’s clean slate, devoid of prior incidents,
becomes a potential goldmine. Even basic details can be exploited, with fraudsters using photos to discern addresses or gathering personal information from parent’s social media posts. In combination with data obtained through phishing, the Dark Web, or public services, cybercriminals can steal a child’s identity for malicious purposes, accessing bank accounts or making credit applications that may go undetected for years.

Digital kidnapping: This form of identity theft involves stealing a child’s images and
presenting them as one’s own. The malicious act aims to expose private information that
could adversely impact the child’s life, affecting educational opportunities or subjecting
them to bullying.

Profiling and long-term impact: The rise of data collection raises concerns about the
long-term consequences of sharing extensive details about a child’s life. Information
collected by advertisers, combined with machine learning capabilities, may be used to
profile individuals in various aspects, influencing decisions by institutions such as banks
and universities. The full extent and consequences of these digital footprints may only
become apparent in the future.

Online privacy and the right to digital identity: Sharenting raises questions about a child’s right to curate their own digital identity. Shared content remains on the internet
indefinitely, potentially causing embarrassment as children age and societal norms evolve. Arguments against sharenting emphasize the need to respect children’s autonomy over their digital presence.

Safeguarding children’s digital identity: Practical tips for parents to balance the positive aspects of social media with the risks to children, parents can adopt several strategies:
Choose secure sharing methods: Instead of sharing on public platforms, use secure,
private, and encrypted instant messaging apps for sharing content.

Limit visibility: Avoid sharing photos with a wide audience. Create private groups for
family and close friends and request that they refrain from sharing images online.

Turn off location services: Be cautious about revealing location details in photos, and
disable location services on devices and apps.

Seek consent: Before posting any content featuring a child, have a conversation and seek
their consent. Consult the other parent and consider their opinion.

Be selective in content: Avoid posting certain photos or videos that could compromise a
child’s privacy, such as images in swimwear or during bath time.

Enhance account security: Adjust privacy settings on social media accounts to limit the
visibility of posts. Restrict access to content only to known individuals, preventing
strangers from viewing photos or videos.

Regularly check for data breaches: Employ digital identity monitoring services to detect potential data breaches and take immediate action to secure vulnerabilities.

In the evolving landscape of digital parenting, mindfulness, and proactive measures are
essential to ensure that the digital identities crafted for children today contribute positively to their future rather than pose risks and challenges.

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