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The exploding popularity of the blog “Reasons my Son is Crying” has forced us to ask: What are the rights of children on the Internet? Should their parents be able to use their image online?
As you improve your digital literacy and increasingly post content online for business or personal use, we believe it is increasingly important to think through where that content is going and what it means for big issues like privacy.
To facilitate the discussion on digital rights for children, we talked with Rachel Peterson, a children’s rights advocate living in Tromsø, Norway. This is her guest post, and she will be hosting a webinar on the same topic April 16th at 1pm CST. Click to register and join the discussion and hear more about how you can decide what to post and what to leave in the shoebox.
My Dorky Bowl-cut, My Choice
I was born in 1981 and all the pictures of me from when I was born until I went off to college are in albums or shoe-boxes at my parent’s house. Some of these pictures are pretty mundane – shots of me next to the Christmas tree, sitting on the couch, or dressed as a dinosaur for Halloween. Some of them are hilarious to me – like ones of me as an extremely cross-eyed baby or where I have the world’s most intense bowl-cut ever. The bowl-cut picture is, in fact, so funny to me that I put it as my profile picture on Facebook a while back.
But I made the decision to put that picture on Facebook (and this blog) myself, as an adult.
Exposure: Who’s Call Is It?
The blog Reasons my Son is Crying has become super popular in just a few days. If you have managed somehow to not bump into it, this blog is made up of hundreds of pictures of a 21 month old boy crying, with captions underneath each picture explaining what set him off. Multiple pictures are posted daily. Over 600,000 people, probably many more by now, have seen this blog and the feedback – from Huffington Post to Good Morning America – is overwhelmingly positive.
But are we really not asking any questions about this?
In this digital/social media age we have become obsessed with ourselves and we seek affirmation through “likes” and shares. Pictures don’t go in albums or shoe-boxes anymore, they go online – for the world to see.
I have no major problem with this.
I post pictures on Facebook, I have an Instagram account, and I enjoy looking at pictures of my friends and family online. My sister can email digital pictures of my one year old nephew in Minnesota to me in Norway and that’s wonderful – I can follow along with his growth and development from abroad.
However, small children, and even some older children, have absolutely no say in whether or not their parents, grandparents, or others post pictures of them online. And even if a four year old is asked whether or not they mind if “mommy posts a picture of you on her blog,” they still have no way of understanding what the consequences of saying “that’s fine, mommy” mean. Pictures on the Internet last FOREVER and can be abused in uncountable ways.
Post As I Say, Don’t Post As I Do
We tell children to be careful of what kind of pictures they publish of themselves and their friends online (“Don’t you dare post that bikini picture!”), but then we don’t ask permission before publishing pictures of them online. And we are publishing pictures of them in diapers, naked in the bath-tub, and in the middle of a temper tantrum.
Is it not hypocritical of us to race to make sure that the most recent tagged picture of us on Facebook is flattering, when we are so quick to post pictures of children without asking permission? I mean, really, nobody wants to be made fun of on the Internet.
Children Have Rights, Even Online
The idea that children have rights was first proposed by a woman called Eglantyne Jebb in 1923. She also founded the children’s rights organization Save the Children. Today we find these rights listed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) – a document that has existed since 1989. Article 12 in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says that a child who is capable of forming his or her own views “has the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child.” Article 19 states that “all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures should be taken to protect the child from all forms of […] exploitation.”
Would we be fine with subjecting other groups in society who don’t have the opportunity to speak for themselves to the same kind of picture/text treatment that, for example, the blog mentioned earlier does?
It is important to mention here that 193 countries in the world have ratified the UNCRC, including ALL members of the United Nations, except for…the United States, Somalia, and South Sudan. This fact warrants an entirely separate blog post, so let’s come back to that later.
UN Convention on the Digital Rights of the Child
What would a UN Convention on the Digital Rights of the Child look like? It would likely:
- Include articles that ensure that the identity and integrity of children is respected
- Offer guidelines and standards that guarantee that children are treated in a dignified manner
- Remind us that, as adults, we are responsible for serving as allies and advocates for children as they navigate the first years of life
At the end of the day, who are we to expose kids online? Is it really worth getting “likes” and laughs?
From the Mouths of Babes
My fellow child’s rights activist colleague, Kine, was talking with a group of 4th graders about being smart and safe on the Internet. They got on the subject of parents who post pictures of kids online and they unanimously agreed that it wasn’t ok for their parents to do so unless they asked first. And then one student said: “But what about babies and really small kids? You can’t really ask them, so it isn’t really ok to post pictures of them online.”
The kids all agreed that this was true. Why don’t we?
Join the Discussion
This is Scott again.
We’re curious what you think about this topic. Are digital rights of children something you have thought about? Is it a concern for you or is it much ado about nothing? Let us know by leaving a comment and by joining Rachel’s webinar. We’ll be taking on-air questions, so make sure you have a mic on your computer and come ready to discuss!