Should parents share their children on social media?

Feb 21, 2024 | News

Documenting our lives on social media has become the norm for many. We use platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to interact and keep in touch with friends and family. I can scroll through my newsfeed on any one of various social media apps and see photos and videos of friends traveling around the world, exercising, trying new food or just spending time with loved ones. There is no question that social media is a primary avenue for many of us to maintain relationships. 

I am now of an age where my peers are starting to have children, with many opting to share photos and videos of their children on social media. Recently, we were asked to consider the ethics of parents sharing children in their content on social media platforms. 

During my research into this topic, I discovered that the law does have quite a bit to say on sharing children online. I have broken down my findings below.

Parental Rights and Responsibilities

Parental rights and responsibilities (PRRs) are governed by the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. Section 1 of the 1995 Act says that parents have a duty to safeguard and promote a child’s health, development and welfare. Section 2 of the 1995 Act says that parents have a right to control, direct or guide, in a manner appropriate to the stage of development of the child, the child’s upbringing. Accordingly, parents need to consider whether posting about their child online accomplishes the above duty under Section 1 or falls under the Section 2 right. PRRs can only be exercised insofar as it is in the best interests of the child to do so. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention has 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to. It also explains how adults and governments must work together to make sure all children can enjoy all their rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Act 2024 just received Royal Assent in January 2024, meaning that from the date of implementation on 16 July 2024 it will be unlawful for a public authority to act, or fail to act, in connection with a relevant function in a way which is incompatible with the UNCRC requirements.

UNCRC Article 3 – best interests of the child

The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children. Parents must consider whether posting material about their child online is in their best interests. In determining this, parents should consider what content is being shared, who can view the content that is being published, and whether this content can be re-shared for others to view.

UNCRC Article 12 – views of the child

Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This right applies at all times, including the child’s day-to-day home life. This means that parents must seek the views of their child before publishing content about them online. Some children will be too young to share their views or understand what it means to have content about them posted online. In these situations, parents need to consider that the child is incapable of consenting to having this information shared.

UNCRC Article 16 – right to privacy

Every child has the right to privacy. The law should protect the child’s private, family and home life, including protecting children from unlawful attacks that harm their reputation. A child’s right to privacy also extends to the internet. Again, parents must consider what content is being shared online and whether this breaches their child’s right to privacy. In some cases, material posted on the internet will be available forever, and parents should also consider whether this content will have a harmful impact on their child’s future. 

UNCRC Article 32 – child labour

Governments must protect children from economic exploitation and work that is dangerous or might harm their health, development or education. Governments must set a minimum age for children to work and ensure that work conditions are safe and appropriate. This article is particularly relevant to “mummy and daddy influencers” who share their children online and receive payment or other benefits for the content they create. The question arises about who is the labourer in these scenarios and whether these influencer parents are exploiting their children for economic gain. While the children featured in this content may be engaged in normal childhood behaviour such as play, the fact remains that the economic advantage to the parents is only available because of the child. For children who are old enough to consent to the sharing of their lives on social media, there is also the question of how these children are remunerated for their work and what share of the profits they see.

UNCRC Article 36 – other forms of exploitation

Governments must protect children from all other forms of exploitation, for example the exploitation of children for political activities, by the media or for medical research. Again, this article is particularly relevant for “mummy and daddy influencers”. In addition to the economic benefits of having a large social media following, there is also the prestige, popularity and (in some cases) fame. These benefits would not be available to the parents without the participation (voluntary or not) of the child. 

Data Protection

A child is the holder of any data about themselves, whether or not they have the capacity to make decisions about the release of that data. Those with PRRs can make decisions about the child’s data if the child lacks the capacity to do so, but only insofar as this is in the child’s best interests.

In a world where social media has a primary function in the way we interact with each other, it is evident that parents and guardians are duty-bound to consider the rights of the child before posting content about their child online. While having a child is a major part of your life that you may wish to share, it is crucial to remember that all children are rights holders whose views must be sought and considered in every decision that affects them.

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