Many parents engage in so-called sharenting innocently enough, without thinking about the consequences. The word, a combination of “sharing” and “parenting,” is a portmanteau like several others associated with social media such as sexting. Sharenting describes the act of sharing photographs or other private information about our children on social media without the knowledge or consent of the minors. And without thinking about the long-term consequences.
The first immediate consequence is that a digital footprint is created for the minor. Today’s children have their lives advertised since even before birth. Many times, fathers and mothers-to-be upload ultrasound images to their social media accounts. The digital footprint of most adults today began consciously with the emergence of social media. But in the case of today’s teens and children, mainly belonging to the Z and Alpha generations, that record that we leave about ourselves on the internet, and which can be found by search engines, is being largely created by their own parents without real awareness. It’s like writing a resume prematurely in which all kinds of personal information will appear, which can be used for good or bad.
Perhaps the most serious thing about all this is that the data shared about minors can reveal enough private information that a criminal could impersonate these children at some point in their lives. This is where sharenting connects with cybersecurity. According to a study carried out by the British bank Barclays, it is estimated that by 2030, 66% of online fraud will be based on the collection of data that reckless people have freely shared without premeditation. It could be said that practicing sharenting without thinking about security is a reckless act. Surely you remember those security questions that many websites ask you, such as the name of your childhood friend, your first pet, or your paternal grandmother. They serve to ensure that the person who is accessing the account is you and only you, because almost no one else can know that information. Before social media, this information was indeed only known to oneself and a select few, but now anyone can delve into a person’s life online, especially if they are young and their digital footprint is extensive, and find these things out. And if you add an algorithm or artificial intelligence that does it automatically, it will be even easier for a criminal to perpetrate the crime on a massive scale.
Another one of the hidden risks of sharenting is grooming, when a malicious adult poses as a minor to establish a relationship of trust with another minor with the clear purpose of perpetrating sexual harassment. According to the NGO Save The Children’s report on viral violence in 2019, in which 400 young people participated, one in five of those surveyed had suffered this type of harassment and 15% had felt it on more than one occasion. The average age of the victims was 15. Exposing the lives of minors on social media can lead to this type of problem, either because parents share photographs of their children or because the children themselves do so, even though they legally cannot create an account on a social network before the age of 14 or 15.
However, many minors create social media accounts long before reaching the legal age, and without having prior education to prepare them emotionally for the exposure they will suffer in that environment. If parents have shared their lives on the internet since they were in the womb, and the issue has not been addressed at home with a critical mindset, they may fall into the hands of harassers or normalize practices such as sexting, consisting of sharing nude photographs or others of an erotic or sexual nature.
Although Instagram is full of fathers and mothers who share the lives of their children and their own, that does not make them all influencers or stars of the parenting world. The public exposure of private aspects of a minor’s life can have long-term consequences that extend into adulthood. No matter how fun and innocent it may seem to post a slightly ridiculous photo of a child or a picture of them in the bathtub or on the beach, we should think twice before hitting the share or like button. Cybersecurity is not a chimera or science fiction. Every day it affects us more, so let’s start by thinking twice before spreading private information on social media.
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