Uploading adorable baby photos to Facebook or Instagram has become just another part of 21st century parenting, but French parents who share photos of their children could soon end up in jail.
France's stringent privacy laws make it a crime to publish intimate details of someone's life without their consent, even when the person in question is their child. Parents who violate these laws can face fines in excess of $48,000 and a year in prison. In addition to criminal penalties, adults who sue their parents for breach of privacy based on their online posts can win substantial monetary awards.
French police are urging caution in part due to fears that naked baby pictures could end up in the hands of pedophiles but also because they consider the child's right to privacy to begin in childhood. Some French security experts want parents to think about how children will feel about having their pictures and stories about their lives shared online.
It's not unreasonable to expect parents to consider their children's privacy before posting photos online, but sending parents to jail for sharing their adorable snapshots is. Parents have always shared pictures of their children, and social media is just an extension of that age-old habit. Social media may be replacing wallets and brag books as the method of sharing baby pictures, but it's just a reflection of society's evolution, not a cause for panic.
There is nothing out of line or criminal about parents who want to brag about their children. It's natural and normal for parents to share pictures and stories about their children with their friends and family, even when they use the Internet to do so. The actual risk of having a child targeted by pedophiles from a Facebook photo published by their parents is vanishingly small. In fact, while pedophiles frequently use social media to gain access to children, it is almost always by contacting the child directly, not from stealing a baby photo. Parents should be allowed to decide for themselves just how much or how little they want to share about their kids online, not the criminal justice system.
Children have never had the same right to privacy as adults. This difference is rooted in the nature of the parent relationship, and it extends to schools and other figures of authority acting as the child's custodian at the time. This allows schools to search children's school lockers without their consent and bars children from suing later in life when they believe their privacy was violated. Parents benefit from feeling like they are part of a community when they are raising their kids, and social media can be a large part of their support network. Cutting them off from talking about their kids could have disastrous consequences for parents without providing any real benefit to their kids.
If children grow up and are horrified by their awkward middle school class pictures appearing online when they search their names, a more reasonable approach would be to just allow them to take it down. Sending parents to jail or levying huge fines against them simply for talking about their children online is an extreme overreaction to a problem that, by and large, doesn't even exist.
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