Definition & Background
Online photos and videos are media produced in digital form and made available on the Internet via websites, blogs, social networking sites, photo/video sharing sites, or email. The key difference between online media and offline media is that online media can be easily copied, shared, and downloaded.
There are two types of online photos and videos with which you as a parent need to concern yourself:
Photos and videos featuring your child, posted either by your child or by someone else (including members of your family).
Similarities and Differences to Offline / Non-Digital MediaBack to Top
As with regular videos and pictures, digital media can range from completely innocuous to wildly inappropriate, depending on what is captured. However, the digital nature of media today can create issues:
It can be digitally altered to suggest that your child has participated in an unsavory activity – or in a worst-case scenario, in a pornographic situation.
It can be spread virally – a term used to describe the way information or media is disseminated from one person to many – and be easily shared with unintended recipients.
Data and Research
In 2006, 34% of children aged 10 – 17 responded in a national survey that they had inadvertently viewed unsolicited sexual content. (This does not take into account those who were pleased to see, or or even sought out, such material.) Four percent of the respondents aged 10 – 17 had received direct solicitations for sexually explicit or nude photographs. In that same year, 61% of teenagers aged 13 – 17 reported that they had a social networking page or a personal blog, with 37% of those teens saying they were unconcerned with what strangers might do with such information.
Mitigating Harm from External Sources
Some parents seek to reduce exposure to or sharing of unwanted media is through the use of internet filtering software at the home. While this may help with part of the problem, blocking only works on a computer-by-computer basis; it is not effective on mobile devices and other computers children may have access to. Further, blocking may:
Give parents the misguided perception that the risk of exposure related to viewing and sharing questionable media online has been averted. At best it may only be mildly mitigated from the home.
Contribute to an adversarial and/or dishonest relationship between parents and children.
Hinder open communication between parents and children, which is proven to be the most important aspect of of keeping your children safe both online and off.
As for the problem of children publishing too much written or visual information, the best solution is to discuss with your children the potential repercussions of sharing such information, and to monitor their activity so that you know what they're doing online.
Although this may make some parents uneasy, protecting your children is your obligation, and direct communication doesn't always reveal the most accurate information. Consider that roughly 75% of parents whose children, age nine and older, use the Internet at home reported that they know "a lot" about how their kids spend time online, while 33% of teenagers aged 13 – 17 said that their parents knew very little about what they did online.
Just as you wouldn't allow your child to spend time elsewhere without you knowing where they are and what they're doing, so too should the same rules be applied to the Internet, especially with respect to the availability of violent and sexually explicit photographs and videos which propagate the Internet with alarming ease.
The Risks of Posting Photos and Videos Online
You and your child must both be aware that any video or photo posted on the Internet may be copied and used for nefarious purposes. Consider the case of Jenni Brennan, who maintained a family blog, happily recording her thriving sons, Jacob and Josh. In August 2009, she received an email from a woman she had never met, saying that she had viewed an advertisement featuring Brennan's nine-month-old son, Jacob, which stated that he was available for adoption.
Another mother, Jessica Gwozdz, found her four year old daughter's image on a Brazilian social networking site where participants could vote on how "sexy" she was. This photo was taken from a free photo sharing site, which had been used by the family to share up-to-date pictures with relatives.
Further, many (if not most) universities and companies will conduct online searches for new applicants. Any information or content about your child that is publicly posted or shared online will be searchable and discoverable. Needless to say, any questionable content will only go to hinder their chances of getting into a school or landing a job.
Just as photos can be taken from blogs and photo sharing sites and used elsewhere, a video uploaded to YouTube or Google Video can be replicated and viewed millions of times by complete strangers. Moreover, while you might have control of the photos and videos you personally post, controlling or removing copied images and videos is a nearly impossible task.
Safely Sharing Media
The safest way to ensure that family photos stay private is to only post them on a password-protected site. Whether you opt for a blog or a picture sharing site, you can create a login and password that users must have in order to gain access. You can give everyone the same username and password, which can help with technology-averse relatives and friends.
As to what your children may post, establish ground rules and stick to them. Keep their social networking pages viewable to friends-only, and monitor what photos and videos they post. Take down any images you are not expressly comfortable with, such as pictures of them in a bathing suit. You may chose also to engage the parents of your child's friends, as you also want to be cognizant of images and videos being posted by others. If all the parents in your community are involved in keeping their child's network free of content that might be tempting to an ill-meaning individual, all the children, and the community as a whole, will be safer.
Managing Problematic Media
If a photo or video involving your child appears provocative in any way, in addition to taking the aforementioned steps, immediately contact your local police department, as there are laws specifically geared toward dealing with this problem. Likewise, if someone has stolen your photos and is using them for illegal purposes – such as the adoption scam – ask the police how they can help.
If you decide to search your home computer to look for media files your children may have downloaded from the Internet or from a digital camera, you can run a search by file type. Common media file types are .jpg, .jpeg, .png, .bmp, .gif and .psd for photos, and .avi, .mpeg, .mpg, .mp4 and .mov for online videos.