This week, Surrey Police are carrying out a social media campaign, encouraging parents to think about that phenomenon, the ‘back to school’ photo’ in front of the front door’ (see how these celebrities did it)…

It even brought out a Daily Mash post, which is when you know it’s totally mainstream!

Usually I’m brought into a radio show to bring the positive perception of digital, but on this occasion, I’d support what Surrey Police are doing – they, and the radio interview, emphasise that this is not about panicking, but about applying some common sense. Here’s the helpful guidelines that Surrey Police offer:

I don’t like the fact that we have to worry about these things, and the chances are rare, but as my book Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst sought to demonstrate, there are things that we need to be wise about (the book was written on principles rather than specifics of social media platform, so still remains largely in date).

The Need for Digital Literacy

A small extract from my book, although typically it’s the children who do know what they’re doing, and the parents who need some digital literacy. :

Take time to talk to your child about what kind of information they give away about themselves in photos (e.g. school uniform), and encourage them to ask their friends’ permission before posting photos of others. With the increasing sophistication of facial recognition software (which compares new images with pre-existing tagged images online), there’s a growing chance of being tagged, although the Canadian MediaSmarts research (2012) demonstrated that most of their participants were savvy enough to regulate their own image, routinely untagging themselves in images on Facebook, and requesting friends to take down unflattering pictures. As a last resort they have reported those that they wish to have removed, or removed them themselves. They monitored friends’ pages to ensure that they were being represented fairly, and trusted each other not to expose silly or embarrassing pictures. Those that were on the phone were considered to be private and not for sharing without agreement, although children should still consider what might happen to those photos if the friendship were to fall apart.

Research shows that most teen social media users agree that they love posting photos of themselves online, with three-quarters of girls and nearly half the boys feeling that way, with a significant number seeking approval in the form of “Likes”. One thing that many users are not aware of is that most smartphones attach a huge amount of information to photos, including geolocation – right down to the detail of a specific room. This is very easy to switch off in the settings, and worth doing in places where you routinely hang out and at home.</p

If you want to ‘disable geotagging’, there is lots of help online – here are the simple tips for taking it off from the iPhone:

  1. Launch Settings from the Home screen of your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Tap Privacy. You’ll have to scroll down a bit to find it.
  3. Tap Location Services.
  4. Tap Camera.
  5. Tap Never.

Choosing Who Sees Your Content

Unfortunately these days school uniforms are very branded, and some are very distinctive. My general feeling is that most are too paranoid about social media, and affected by ‘moral panics’, thinking that people are more interested in us than they really are! If there is someone, however, seeking to do harm (rare, but it does happen), then we want to have put some thought into what we post, and to whom (sharing with friends on Facebook is much less problematic than posting on Instagram). Anyone who has adoptive children typically can’t partake in this ‘tradition’, and have learnt to manage privacy well (something we could all do with, taking our digital literacy seriously): be really aware of who can see your photos (Facebook has a lot of privacy options – learn how to use them – most are actually pretty simple), and think about putting people into . Possible to put people in ‘lists’ – e.g. family, work, church, school, etc. so only specific people see content. When you are posting, you then need to select either ‘friends except’ or ‘specific friends’ and choose a list to include or exclude:
There is also the chance that someone could screenshot the content, but this is more about trusting the people that we connect with online, and how much we know about them – otherwise we’d never do anything. The material may also be online for many years, although there are campaigns to allow people to ‘wipe clean’ their digital footprint at 18, but also employers and others need to remember that just because someone posted a daft photograph from years ago, doesn’t necessarily reflect on them now.

Asking Permission

One good practice a lot of parents have got into is asking the permission of their children before posting images, although the child needs to be a suitable age before you can ask. As I also wrote in my book:

The Parenting Place in New Zealand notes that many parents are announcing their pregnancy online (around 25 per cent share the news via the first scan), posting the child’s birth, first words, and first steps, creating a digital shadow before the child is even born. By the time they’re two, more than 90 per cent of children have an online history. A new term, “Sharents”, has been created for parents who appear to share every moment of their child’s life. Mashable gives some useful advice to such parents, and to those trying to cope with the “baby overload”: don’t believe that others have “perfect lives” with their children.

Is it just common sense?

As I was quoted saying in the Guardian earlier this year, much of it is:

“Much of it is common sense, says Bex Lewis, senior lecturer in digital marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age. “Try not to put their school uniform in, try not to show that you have a regular pattern every day.” Most parents, you would hope, wouldn’t post pictures of their children naked but there are other things parents should perhaps think twice about. It is probably not fair, she says, to show pictures of a child having a meltdown, “although those are quite funny to watch”. Turn off geotagging, which tells internet users where you are, and lock down your privacy settings. Even then, “there is always a chance someone could screenshot the pictures, but someone could take a picture of your child in the park, and if you thought like that you’d never go anywhere. Keep the child involved in the conversation from an early age. The digital world is an everyday part of our lives now. It’s still evolving, so I’m not sure there are any fixed rules, but having a bit of thought about what you are posting and where you’re posting it is the critical thing.””

So let’s not panic about it, but be informed, and take sensible steps with our data sharing. Not forgetting:

The programme was broadcast on BBC Surrey at around 5.20pm, 6th September (this blog post was published earlier):

For my own records (and those who are Facebook friends with me), an interesting conversation was held about this on my page.

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