Social media has become a very common mode of communication. On Facebook alone, there are over 2 billion monthly active users. And these users are uploading up to 350 million new photos every day. Among these are those indulging in ‘sharenting’, or parents sharing photographs and information of their children.
Many parents are now shaping their children’s social identity and creating their digital footprint before the child even begins to walk.
Rachel Ann Srinivasan, a customer service operator based in Dubai, is one of them. She shares photographs of her two-year-old daughter on social media every week. Her family keeps asking for updates and so she finds it easiest to share the pictures for all her friends and family to see.
The Filipina national said: “Our relatives live in different countries. I cannot contact them all individually.”
Despite knowing that her daughter becomes vulnerable once her photographs are on the internet, Srinivasan claims she has no other choice. However, she does her bit in ensuring her security by maximising the privacy settings on her social media accounts.
She said: “Most of the people on my friends’ list are individuals who I know personally. I do not accept friend requests from random people. And I usually just share pictures from an event or occasion, nothing intimate. Once my daughter grows up, I want her to see all her milestones.”
As Srinivasan was growing up, taking pictures wasn’t as easy as it is today. If she comes across a photograph of herself from her childhood, she holds onto it. She doesn’t want her daughter to feel that way, and hopes that social media will give her an insight into her life.
Anoosha Alexander, an Indian human resources officer based in Sharjah, often shared pictures of her twins when they were younger. She wasn’t aware of the security policies at the time, but when she learnt of them, she stopped sharing as much.
She said: “I used to post pictures from occasions or when we were out for a party or picnic. Now, I only share pictures of them with family.”
Alexander once had a bad experience that has made the entire family more cautious. She posted a picture of her daughter on social media and someone used it to create a fake profile.
She said: “We contacted Facebook, but they said as long as the content wasn’t harmful, they wouldn’t be able to take the profile down. A man was using her picture! We then got the authorities in Kerala, India, involved.”
After this incident, they have become extremely particular about what they share online.
She said: “It used to be fun to see pictures of babies. But, once, at a party, I heard some people talking about a baby in a vulgar manner.”
Tabinda Noaman, a Pakistani entrepreneur based in Dubai, used to post her daughter’s photographs, even though her husband would tell her not to.
She said: “The only thing that bothered me were the comments I would receive. People would ask questions about what she was wearing or what she was doing and it seemed to me that it was becoming a competition for other mums. I felt my child was affected by the evil eye.”
Her pictures started gaining unwanted attention, even by people who she wasn’t very close to. So, Noaman decided to stop posting them to avoid further conversations.
There are always two sides to a story and there are many parents globally who do not like to share any photographs online.
Omar Khammash, a Jordanian training manager based in Dubai, believes that social media platforms are for things you would share in public. In his opinion, pictures of your children are private and so he doesn’t post them online.
He said: “Most of the people I know post pictures of their children. But, I prefer to keep my family moments private.”
His major concern is the security policies on various social media channels, especially Facebook, which he believes are constantly changing.
He said: “Ten years ago, if I posted something, I could change privacy settings so that only a specific friend was allowed to see it. Now, everyone on my friends list can see my posts. Facebook is becoming more exposed and commercial.”
He is also worried that his children may not be happy with the information he shares. “We need to take their permission before posting anything,” he added.
Research conducted by the Australia-based Murdoch University showed that an increasing number of mum bloggers are now using social media in order to become online influencers and earn money. But, they are also influencing mothers around the world to follow in their footsteps.
Aisha Al Janahi, an Emirati senior social media specialist and mother of one, has witnessed this trend.
She said: “Many people share improper pictures of their children, for example their child using the toilet, just for the sake of being famous. This is cruel! When these children grow up, they won’t have sincere life goals.”
Al Janahi believes that the children will also dream about being famous, and will not be like their peers with a “proper agenda in life”. This is because from a very young age, their mothers have given them a responsibility — to “be unique”.
If you check the security policies on Facebook, it states, “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings”. However, how many people check these settings?
She said: “I think people are not aware of security policies. They create a social media account just for the sake of having online presence. They don’t read the policies. There are some rules on social media, for example they may have permission to take certain pictures and use them for ads. Every picture shared is not yours anymore.”