The Politics Of The Back To School Photo
By Ruby Norris Posted on 5 Sep 2018
After an impossibly long, hot summer, September has arrived and with it an eclectic mix of ‘in-between’ bare-legged and baggy-jumpered outfits, new stationery lining the shelves and the startling realisation we’re now measuring the time until Christmas in ‘sleeps’.
As our French cousins put it: c’est la rentrée. The time of year families flock back to the cities, suitably bronzed, to tackle a new academic year or final business quarter with a new joie de vivre only a summer in the Riviera can supply. Over here in the UK we don’t put it quite so romantically, but back-to-school season is officially upon us. You only need to log into Facebook to see.
As schools up and down the country re-open their doors after over six weeks of summer holidays this week, parents have taken to social media to share pictures of their uniform-clad children all set to embark on another year of compulsory education. And these pictures come in many incarnations. From pictures of little ones on their first ever day of school, to disgruntled pre-teens reluctantly posing by the gates of their senior school (let’s not even get started on the throwback snaps), it’s thought over 1.3 billion back to school photos will be shared online. No wonder our timelines are looking more and more like entry forms for a children’s photo competition.
But it’s not just the risk of clogging up friends’ Facebook feeds or losing a few Instagram followers parents could be running by posting these photos. According Metro, cybersecurity company McAfee warns could pose a genuine security threat as nearly a third of the pictures shared are on public profiles. This means approximately 390 million images can be accessed by total strangers.
“These sorts of images can be used to gather personal information such as school, location, a child’s full name, or even birth dates to paint a picture of who they are,” warns Raj Samani, Chief Scientists and Fellow at McAfee. Yet, despite this wealth of information being available to literally anyone and the fact over half of us are worried about paedophiles gaining access to this data, research carried out by McAfee suggests 53% of us still plan to share images of their children in their school uniform this week.
But for mum-of-two Lisa Forde, the risks of posting back to school photos far outweigh the need to share online. Not only is it a safeguarding issue, Lisa explains, but she doesn’t want people knowing where her children go to school. Lisa is also conscious people don’t want to be “bombarded with back to school photos online, instead opting “keep events offline and only sharing them with close friends and family.”
However, for some mums, sharing pictures of their children is the only way to update friends and family living further afield on their kids’ lives. “My family all live back in Australia and New Zealand, so this is a way for me to keep them in touch with my girls as they grow up,” journalist-turned-blogger Jacqui Paterson explains
But it’s all about being savvy. Jacqui admits she is aware of the potential risks that come with sharing on public profiles. She adds: “I would have no qualms sharing on my private Facebook page, but I wouldn’t gratuitously share on these open forums. I would make sure there were absolutely no identifying elements - school logos, signs in the background etc - and I would also check my girls were happy for that photo to be used on my blog, Mummy’s Little Monkey.”
In addition to the safety concerns, what some parents may consider an opportunity to show off their offspring in a bid for a few extra likes on the ‘gram, could actually prove damaging to their children’s well-being. Samani adds: “Parents also need to think about the emotional risks as they build a ‘digital identity’ of their children online, often without their consent.”
According to a study by ComRes, only 27% of parents even consider this before publishing, meanwhile, over a quarter of children aged 10-12 reportedly feel anxious or worried as a result of their parents posting these pictures. At a time when online-bullying is rife and more and more children are using social media from a younger age, parents should think twice before posting an ‘embarrassing’ photo online.
And its not just children who could be left red-faced. Social media and online photo sharing could provide the means for school-gate snobbery to go digital. While you may be able to escape the wrath of the ‘bitchy mums’ by avoiding the dreaded school run, posting photos of your kids heading back to school could encourage unwanted criticism from other parents or unhealthy competition over the number of likes your little ones’ photo has garnered.
While stopping parents from posting back to school pictures of their kids all together might be just a bit drastic, McAfee say parents should “check their privacy settings and who they allow on their social network”. They also advise turning off location settings before uploading a snap from the school gates. Oh, and it’s probably best to check in with your 12-year-old before sharing that questionable throwback.
But just as we love to hate good ol’ humble brag, our daily scroll through Facebook on a cool September morning just wouldn’t be the same without the 1342 first day shots of Sarah from accounts’ gap-toothed 7-year-old grimacing to camera, would it?
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