All sorts of risks
While small children are unlikely to object to their parents sharing images and anecdotes about them, it’s a different case for older children. “Some teenagers or young adults are troubled when they learn by chance that people they don’t know actually know a lot about them because they’re ‘friends’ of their parents on social media,” says Fréchette.
Funny images or stories can also be used by outsiders. “Children may be teased by schoolmates, or stories may be used to bully them.” In a focus group, Fréchette heard a young boy recount how he had been ridiculed by peers who had found a picture of him on the Internet dressed as a girl. The photo had been posted without his knowledge when he was little.
Oversharing can also expose a child to other risks. For example, an Internet user could reproduce the child’s face on his or her site to make it look like their own child – a practice called “digital kidnapping.” Companies could use posted information for marketing purposes. Even worse, fraudsters could use this information to steal a child’s identity.
“Parents often post quite a bit of information that’s not trivial,” says Fréchette – for example, giving the name of their child’s pet or school. When young people grow up, they may unwittingly choose password questions with answers that are easy to find on social media. This could make the work of a potential fraudster easier.
When parents photograph their child in front of their house, new risks are added. Digital photos often contain information that can be used for geolocation, which could inadvertently provide a child’s address to an ill-intentioned stranger. In the study, Fréchette mentions that according to Barclays Bank, having a child’s name, date of birth and address is enough to open a bank account or apply for credit in the child’s name. All of which leads the author to conclude that in terms of fraud, parental oversharing is “a veritable sword of Damocles hanging over a child’s head.”
Finally, oversharing can expose a young person to child pornography, even when the photos posted do not have sexual connotations. “They only have to be taken by ill-intentioned individuals who distribute them in a completely different context,” says Fréchette. According to Nadia Gagnier, a psychologist interviewed as part of the research, a child who learns of such use could suffer significant psychological consequences.
Many parents believe they are protected when social media posts are made in a private group. According to the researcher, this is not enough.