Parents, stop over-sharing about your child on the internet

By MaryAnne Isaac Time of article published Oct 5, 2021

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Durban – Since the inception of the World Wide Web, our knowledge and understanding of the world has vastly increased. Life is not only easier but also much more entertaining and sociable, and fast-forward to the noughties, social media became a thing.

The internet is a wonderful place that helps with acquiring knowledge, online shopping, keeping in touch with loved ones and entertainment. However, it can also be the devil’s playground if you tend to over-share and indulge in its dark side. As a parent, over-sharing about your children can invite unwanted attention, but what happens when schools share information about your child?

According to Michelle Dickens, CEO of TPN Credit Bureau, data protection of children’s information requires a special level of caution, and it is alarming that parents are often the ones who share this information freely, without being fully aware of the impact it may have on their children’s privacy and their safety.

“Sharenting” is a term that has evolved to describe parents who share too much information about their children on social media.

“It is estimated that by 2030, sharenting could account for up to seven million incidents of identity theft. While we are aware that children are targeted online, we don’t always realise that our own actions could be contributing to the problem,” says Dickens.

She adds that schools and educational organisations are at the forefront of the shift in the level of caution required to protect children’s information. Both parents and teachers play a critical role in ensuring that schools are compliant with the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act – this is why schools have recently implemented stricter control over the sharing of images and information on their platforms.

The POPI Act prohibits the distribution of personal information, including images of people, without their consent. That means that schools can no longer use photographs of learners in their marketing material or post photographs online without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian – and they need to be able to prove that consent.

“Although POPI does not require this consent to be in writing, it is a good idea to get written consent in the event that you need to provide that evidence at a later stage.

“If schools plan to use photographs of learners on their website, Facebook or on Instagram pages, they would need direct permission from parents or guardians to consent to the images being used or risk being in contravention of the POPI Act.

“A good rule of thumb is to treat all information as confidential and before you share anything, think about the implications and the potential for future harm,” advises Dickens.

Here are four ways to protect your little ones on the web.

1. Set all social media platforms to private mode

Try setting your social media accounts to private mode, and disable all settings that require additional personal information. Only accept people you know or who may have authentic accounts and user names.

2. Disable location services

Avoid checking in on Facebook or updating your status about where you are, as criminals use this information to target children’s physical whereabouts in order to find out where they go to school, their age and their names. Also, you would be inviting paedophiles and child traffickers into your child’s life. Rather, if you must, check in or update your status after you are done with your holiday, and never check in at schools.

3. Be careful of accessing public Wi-Fi

Try not to allow access to public Wi-Fi services, as this could compromise private and financial information and keep tabs on your whereabouts.

4. Get your child’s consent

You may have authority as a parent when it comes to making decisions about your child, but you can also ask your children for their consent before posting any photographs or private information on the internet.

Dickens believes it is imperative that children are educated about what they can and can’t post, and are empowered to take responsibility. In this way, you can also teach them a life lesson and help them understand the implications of posting unauthorised information on social media platforms.

5. Know the social media platforms your child uses

Paedophiles and child traffickers use social media platforms to exploit, compel, recruit and spread child sexual abuse material. Have knowledge about your child’s social media account and logins, and report any suspected cyber-abuse to the police immediately.

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