Fearing Facebook
Parents worry about sharing their kids with the world
By Dan Keashen

Lisa Findley is an anomaly in Voorhees – and even throughout the country. She does not have a Facebook account in this social media world where more than 96 million account holders post, share and connect on an almost daily basis.

Findley will not allow any images of her three children, ages 7 to 12, to be posted on the social networking site.

“I have several concerns with images of my children on Facebook and, off the top of my head, child predators and bullying rate pretty high – actually bullying is my biggest concern,” says Findley. “Even on Instagram the kids are rating girls from prettiest to ugliest, which is toxic to their confidence and probably the initial stages of bullying. People ask me all the time for my Facebook account to see pictures of the kids. I usually just email or text them instead.”

fbshutterstock_169447445But unlike Findley, most parents do post images to social media sites like Facebook. According to a recent study by the website Posterista, 64 percent of parents upload images of their children to social media outlets at least three times a week. The practice has become so common it has been coined “over-sharenting” by network users who complain about having their feed crammed with baby images.

Christina Azcona lives in Cherry Hill and is another rare breed in a world dominated by social media. As a young mother who has grown up during the rise of Facebook, she does not post or share images of her son. Much like Findley, she finds the practice can have unintended negative consequences in a medium that most people do not fully comprehend and that hasn’t been fully vetted.

“I guess what got me thinking about it was my first internship in 2008. The company I was working for really drilled into me the content being shared over Facebook,” says Azcona. “They warned us about putting the company and ourselves in compromising positions and then posting it somewhere the whole world could see. Since that time I never felt the need to be bothered by opening an account or wanting my privacy to be breached.”

Azcona graduated in 2011 and immediately took a job with the utility company PSE&G. By that time, she was accustomed to being teased by her friends about not being on Facebook. Once she started her family and married her husband Eric, they made a conscious decision to stay off social media and keep their baby’s image off it as well.

“We wanted to protect our son,” says Azcona. “We want to maintain his privacy and our family’s. I get asked all the time to share photos. If they are people close to us, I will send them pictures using another method. Of course, if I don’t know the person well enough to have their email address or physical address, I probably shouldn’t be sharing photos of my son with them.”

Like Findley, Azcona is especially concerned about child predators and other criminals when it comes to sharing images of her child on social media.

“We have told friends and family members to remove photos of our son from their Facebook page,” says Azcona. “We’ve taken a hard line, and in a world that is over-sharing everything, I guess we are the exception to the rule.”

In the United States, which boasts 180 million Facebook accounts, the largest segment of users is 25- to 54-year-olds, who account for nearly 20 percent of the network’s accounts. Bill Ackerman, a Cherry Hill police department detective, says while approximately 66 percent of the country is on Facebook, parents should consider three things before posting an image of their child.

“I tell people all the time that speed, immediacy and permanency should be on the mind of every parent when they are posting to Facebook, or any social media site for that matter,” says Ackerman. “My message to all parents is to never post anything improper, immoral or embarrassing and to think about what you are posting before you put it on the web, because it will be there until the end of days.”

Ackerman references speed, especially with smart phones, because individuals are posting everything about their lives instantly – as it happens. This creates a myriad of problems if the account holder is being targeted by criminals, because Facebook displays a vast reservoir of intelligence about where you go, when you go, and who you’re with when you get there.

Greg Lastowka, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law-Camden, and a co-director of the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law, says he shares images of his children over Facebook, but there is a need for caution.

“I have posted pictures of my kids on Facebook, and many of my family members post pictures of their kids, too,” says Lastowka. “For the most part, I don’t see a problem with sharing pictures of your kids online with your friends and family. I think grandparents and extended family are usually interested in keeping in touch this way, and it’s probably one of the reasons that some families use Facebook to keep in touch with each other.”

This rationale was one of the prime reasons Rebecca Carbone, a nurse, opened her Facebook account before the birth of her first child. Carbone is originally from Utah and has extended family in California and Canada. She is raising three children with her husband in Shamong Township, but wants to stay in touch with family members she rarely sees.

“I have a lot of family throughout the country,” says Carbone. “It’s nice we can keep in touch, and it’s easier by posting pictures of the kids. They specifically ask to see them on Facebook.”

Prior to opening her Facebook account Carbone had no way to share photos with such a large segment of her family.

“I suppose if I was not on Facebook, I would have to show them via email or some other way. It’s just so easy and simplified on Facebook for all of us,” says Carbone. “I hope I’m not naïve to the risks, but I feel like it’s just the wave of the future for the way we connect with family and friends.”

Facebook’s policy and settings related to image sharing continue to have issues related to access, regardless of users’ selected privacy settings. For instance, after speaking with one of the moms for this article – who was sure she had her privacy settings set “as high as they can go” – a simple Google search instantly yielded images of her children from Facebook.

Lastowka says parents often overlook steps they can take to ensure images of their kids remain private.

“First, read the Facebook Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. These are the legal rules that control how Facebook can use the photographs you post online,” says Lastowka. “And you should also be aware that Facebook often changes these rules, so just because you know what the terms are one month doesn’t mean the terms are the same the next month.”

For instance, as of January 2014, Facebook’s terms say the following: For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

This immediately hit home with Carbone, who referenced her privacy settings after talking about the possible long-term issues with posting images on the network. She says her account is locked down “pretty tight” and that staying up-to-date with her settings is a must.

“As a parent you do need to stay on top of it. Images can get into the wrong hands and can be used somehow in a degrading, distasteful or otherwise negative way. I guess I hope my privacy settings won’t allow that.”

Lastowka went on to caution moms and dads to know who is in your network, noting that someone else’s lax settings can make images all but public property.

Bill Ackerman also makes a plea for parents to know their “friends.”

“First and foremost, parents really need to think about who is in their network. Just because you knew somebody 20 years ago doesn’t mean you know who they are now,” says Ackerman. “If you are posting images of your children on Facebook and there is someone you may have only met a few times or someone you haven’t physically seen in a long period of time on your friends list, you should think twice before posting pictures you don’t want the public to see.

“You need to go back, probably a few times a year, and make sure everything is still set the way you want it. You should be aware that even if your privacy settings are perfect for you, it is pretty easy for a Facebook photo to get into the hands of a third party. Anyone who sees the photo can make a copy of it, and some of your friends might use public computers to access Facebook. So if the photo of your child is something you really would not want the world to see, it’s probably better not to share it on Facebook.”

Lastowka says there’s another factor to consider before posting photos – your child’s best interests.

“We’re not sure where today’s technology is heading. Computers are getting better each day at facial and object recognition. Facebook, even today, can do a pretty good job of recognizing the identity of individuals in posted pictures. It’s possible that future computers will be able to extract much more data from digital photographs than we do today. So what seems like a safe and normal practice today might raise new issues in the near future.”

Megan Brown, who lives in Salem County with her husband and two children, opened her Facebook account in 2008 and checks activity on her news feed about three to four times a day. She has no apprehension about posting photos of her children on the network. In fact, after giving birth, she posted an image on her husband’s Facebook account announcing the birth.

“I recently read something about embarrassing your kids in the future with things you post of them now,” says Brown. “I don’t post a ton of images and certainly don’t seek to embarrass my kids in any post. I don’t post images I think will be used against them in the future by other kids, especially bullies.”

Ackerman, who was a community policing officer prior to being promoted to detective and working in cyber crime, has spoken with hundreds of groups about the issues surrounding social media.

“It’s the parents more than the kids who are shocked when I talk about the issues with security and privacy on Facebook and other social media sites,” says Ackerman. “One message I tell parents all the time until I’m blue in the face: think before you post or update something on Facebook.”

March 2014
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