How Sharenting Compromises Children’s Privacy Rights

With so much of our kids’ lives being digitally documented, now is an important time to raise questions about sharenting, a phrase coined by The Wall Street Journal that refers to the many ways that parents share details about their children’s lives online.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Facebook and Twitter: perhaps the two strongest social media drivers of what is now being referred to as a “post-privacy world.”

In light of this poignant milestone, one can’t help but acknowledge the impact that social sharing has had on younger generations of parents who’ve become so accustomed to freely distributing intimate details of their lives, that it seems only natural for them to share that same information on behalf of their children.

Even some of the most well-intentioned parents will carelessly share personal information, without thinking about how their posts will affect their kids’ futures and overall wellbeing.

“Given the searchable, shareable, long-lasting nature of what’s published on the web, this dual role of parent and publisher raises a host of questions about privacy, consent, and the parent-child relationship more broadly,” wrote The Atlantic contributor Arienne LaFrance.

Stacey Steinberg, Legal Skills Professor at University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, explores the unintended consequences of sharenting and discusses digital-age parenting best practices in an in-depth legal analysis entitled: Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media, slated to publish in the Spring 2017 edition of the Emory Law Journal.

“Children have an interest in privacy. Yet a parent’s right to control the upbringing of his or her children and a parent’s right to free speech may trump this interest,” she explains. “When parents share information about their children online, they do so without their children’s consent.”

When parents become self-appointed arbiters of their child’s personal information, the repercussions may not be immediately felt –– Steinberg suggests that, given enough time, the dissolution of kids’ online identity protection, or the resentment they may have toward their parents’ previous online disclosures, have potential to become very real issues.

The GDPR “right to be forgotten” provision applies directly to this principle in the EU, but the US has no such law in place. Individuals (even infants and children) have a right to request that their personal information be scoured from search engine results, but it seems an unlikely prospect given the free speech and free press protections in the US.

In an effort to draw attention to the conflict between a parent’s right to publish and a child’s right to privacy, pediatricians, researchers, and advocates are in the beginning stages of developing a public health campaign that addresses sharenting concerns.

Adopting a “child-centered perspective” is necessary, but because there are no legal policies in place that offer our youth a way to address conflicts that arise from sharenting, it’s up to the next generation of parents to reform digital habits to ensure that their children can exercise their privacy rights, freely define their personalities, and evolve their digital footprints on their own terms.