Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Risky Behavior

Is it dangerous to post pictures of children on the Internet?

I was in an online conversation with someone who suggested that it is "stupid" to post pictures of children online. So how do I justify the fact that I share pictures of my children?

First: is it really dangerous? I do think there's some risk involved with living a public life, and with sharing any sort of personal information publicly. So, is it dangerous to share pictures of my children online? Possibly. Why do it, then?

I have a daughter with Down syndrome. One of the reasons I blog is to raise awareness about the disability and what it's REALLY like, rather than the stereotypes with which we're all familiar. I can't count the number of people who've written to me that my blogging slices of our family life and sharing of family pictures - including my children interacting with each other - have changed the way they think/feel about people with disabilities. Writing the way I write and sharing the pictures I share makes my family's experiences feel personal for hundreds of people on the web who wouldn't otherwise know us.

Second: is the internet really more dangerous than other public places? Perhaps. I think that people do and say things online they wouldn't do or say in person, and sometimes we tend to forget that there are real live people on the other end of the wireless connection. But does that translate into a significant real world risk? I think this increased risk is relatively small.

It's true that someone could take a picture I post on my blog, save it to his own computer, and look at it with unpleasant thoughts running through his head. Such a guy is sick and probably does the same thing with pictures found in any source (advertisements, newspapers, old yearbooks, others' photos of our family taken in public places). Or he sits behind his window and watches children walk home from school. It's disturbing but doesn't actually touch/hurt/endanger my family in any way.

The fear is that someone could move from thought to action, become fixated on one of my children, and seek her out in person.

If a scary internet criminal was determined to find me physically he could do so. It's possible to guess where we go to church, where my children attend school, where we exercise, etc. from the anecdotes I share. And that does worry me when I'm getting increased traffic and attention due to a controversial position I've taken. The world holds people who get angry and irrational and violent.

But I think there's real danger to always expecting the worst of others, to always living in fear. It makes sense to take precautions. And everyone will draw their own lines in different places. (I feel safe with this, not that. I will blog but not post pictures. I will blog and post pictures but do so anonymously. I will not share any personal information on the internet and will not attend events where cameras are likely to be present.)

I see the internet as a community. There might be scary people lurking in the corners (thieves, terrorists, pedophiles). I'll have my eyes open. But I'm not going to hold back from participating fully in community and building real relationships with people because of a small risk that someone with ill-intent might overhear.

Additional Reading.


RobMonroe said...

I'm obviously pro-online pics as I post pics to two blogs, as well as Flickr and Picasa. Oh, and Facebook. Wow - Abby is everywhere!

I would also say that it's not for everyone - you have to do what you're comfortable with. I don't want someone to push their photo-philosophy on me, and I don't push mine on others. You and I, for example, disagree about bath pics online. Carol and I disagree about them in general. That does not mean that I don't appreciate the cute ones you post, just means that I've made the choice that I won't post any from our house.

Penny L. Richards said...

We know, maybe more than some parents, that what COULD MAYBE SOMEHOW happen can't be allowed to interfere constantly with the real joys of life, in any arena. You can and should calculate for your own family when the actual benefits of posting photos (which are huge!) outweigh any possible risks (which are usually very, very small).

grace said...

As someone who works with both victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse I can say that the best way to ensure your children's safety is to have educated children and parents about sexual abuse. Perpetrators of this kind of sexual abuse are almost ALWAYS someone close to the child, who knows them well and has access to them. It is much easier to think about a stranger lurking in the shadows than an uncle or a pastor or a teacher but the reality is it would be someone you know. Therefore, I do not believe posting family albums online affects the saftey of your children. :)

Mustang Sally said...

I tend to agree with you - I'll be darned if I'll let the perverts suck all the joy out of the internet. But OTOH, I did take down some nearly nekkid pics of my son from Flickr that were getting an abnormally high number of hits.

I'm almost more worried about some idiot turning *me* in as a possible abuser as a result - like that family recently who got turned in by the Walmart photo clerks and lost their kids for months until the Machine of CSD finally determined that yes, indeed they were perfectly innocent.

Sarahlynn said...

Rob, yep.

Penny, yes.

Grace, a very good point. Sad. True.

Sally, I too am careful with nudity, both because of the perv factor and also because of a nascent sense of my children's right to privacy.

I hadn't heard the WalMart story, though I did see a Lifetime movie about the same thing, years ago. Sick.

grace said...

agreed about the naked pictures deal.
i want to add that i think internet safety is very important for kids who are old enough to be browsing around on their own.

datri said...

It's a risk/reward thing. Personally, I think it's soooo important to show how "normal" and cute our kids and our lives are. So I don't mind sharing. Yeah, someone could take the pics and do horrible things with them, but that's THEIR problem, not mine.