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Since Facebook launched in 2004, parents have been sharing pictures and information about their children on social networks. A generation of kids whose parents have posted about them since birth are now growing up and tuning into their online profiles. Are they OK with those toddler bathtub pictures on Instagram? Can the Facebook conversation their mum had about their teen problems be deleted? What might have seemed like innocent sharing among friends, could have significant ramifications on that child’s public image in the future.
When Sydney-based public relations professional Roxy Jacenko recently defended the commercialisation of her daughter, Pixie Curtis, four, on Instagram, there was strong debate over what sort of images of children – if any – parents should put online. The account, managed by Jacenko has more than 110 000 followers. In February 2016, images of Pixie were doctored by a stranger to portray her in sexualised scenarios. Despite that, Jacenko continues to post images of her daughter on the account. She’s not the only mother sharing an intimate look at her child’s life. Eleven-year-old Russian supermodel Kristina Pimenova, who has been dubbed ‘the most beautiful girl in the world’, has attracted more than five million followers across Instagram and Facebook. Her mother has been criticised for tempting predators, who post sleazy commentary on the pre-teen’s pages.
While parents have a right to share images, they may face legal issues in the future if their child decides to sue them for creating an unauthorised digital identity, especially if it can be proven that they have been exploited or disadvantaged. According to Dr Claudio Bozzi from Deakin Law School, ‘Children do have rights in domestic and international law. They have a right to have their private lives respected.’
‘It means parents can’t do a lot of things because children can’t give consent,’ Dr Bozzi says, but believes that in most cases, parents would justify what’s posted within social networks isn’t ‘exploitative’. Whether that’s a reliable defence remains to be seen.
'Children do have rights in domestic and international law. They have a right to have their private lives respected.'
Dr Claudio Bozzi,
Deakin Law School
Dr Bozzi warns that the potential for child-to-parent lawsuits is imminent. ‘We’re getting close to the edge of a cliff where these things will cavalcade down,’ he says. The issue is already on the agenda in France, where parents have been told to refrain from posting pictures of their children in case they later sue for breaches to their privacy rights. Under France’s privacy laws, parents could be hit with fines of more than 45 000 euros and imprisonment.
While there’s no equivalent push in Australia, Dr Bozzi explains that there are steps anyone can take if they’re not happy with the way they’re portrayed digitally, no matter their age. ‘If someone is exploiting your image without permission or authority you can ask for them to stop, seek an injunction or sue them for having done so,’ he says.
Dr Bozzi says a pre-emptive approach to managing the grey areas of parents posting pictures of children on the internet is to set clearer legal boundaries. ‘In the EU there are right to be forgotten laws that are a bit more productive,’ he explains. This means that if an individual believes content relating to them is out of date or damages their reputations, they can demand for Google and other search engines to remove it.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that young people are already looking to escape their parents’ digitisation of their lives, which is why they’re opting out of Facebook and moving into ephemeral social spaces like Snapchat, where nothing is stored forever. And by the time today’s 10-year-olds become teens there’ll no doubt be a suite of privacy tools to help them retreat further from public view. ‘The images of yourself and words about you are your property,’ Dr Bozzi concludes. He says that young people have both a right to privacy and a right to the ownership of their own property – that includes their digital footprint.
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