COMMENTARY: Online baby pics do not always amuse

FILE - This July 16, 2013, file photo shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook is trying to coax “news deserts” into bloom with the expansion of a tool that provides people with local news and information, but says it still has a lot to learn. The social media giant said Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, it is expanding its “Today In” service to 6,000 cities and towns across the U.S., up from 400 previously. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

By FROMA HARROP, Special to the Star

My Facebook feed often carries pictures of children whom I don’t know and, in the case of sonograms, who aren’t even born yet. They are strangers to me, albeit cute strangers. If I’m very close to the sender, I’ll respond in a private message, “That’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen,” and then move on.

Many social media posts showcasing children, however, do bother me. Babies with birthday cake smeared on their faces are not adorable. Nor are children on the edge of tantrum, for whatever silly reason.

But many of these posts are highly objectionable on grounds beyond one grouch’s tastes. They are words and images that could boomerang back on children when they become adults — or adolescents in high school. These images are out there forever and could be edited with mischievous captions.

Social scientists apply the word “sharenting” to the practice of displaying one’s children on social media. How would you feel if someone posted daily images of you without your input?

A British study found that nearly 1,500 images of the average child had gone online before age 5. “Baby pics drive clicks,” writes Anya Kamenetz, an NPR education reporter. “Millennial moms are the holy grail,” a marketer told her.

One mother I do know tweeted an account of one daughter tormenting her other. No names were posted, but anyone who knew the family could easily figure out which child was acting cruelly. Someday that kid might be running for state attorney general and find reporters rummaging through those long-ago posts.

Images are especially problematic — even childish pictures of boys sticking their tongue out. As Kamenetz writes, an innocent video of a little girl doing cartwheels could be mined by pedophiles for a specific split-second view.

A growing literature says that these pictures, innocent ones included, can be an invasion of the child’s privacy. The child has no say on what becomes public for cyberspace eternity.

A mother on Twitter attached a photo of her teen daughter the day the girl’s school sent her home for inappropriate dress. Mom thought the girl looked fine, but one can imagine how many

times that picture of an adolescent with big breasts in a tight top was passed around.

Spending all day with little children can be a lonely business. Making them the object of public scrutiny on social media is not the way to overcome the isolation of parenthood. If one wants to share images of their offspring with acquaintances, exchanging photo albums or emails with JPG attachments would seem the more dignified approach.

Except in cases of child pornography, there is nothing parents can do about others taking pictures of their children — say, in a park — and sharing them online. (Under Australian law, one only needs permission to photograph people on private property.) The least parents can do is monitor their own judgment about what they share on social media. A bad outcome would be their children growing up to resent them for turning their youth into a public spectacle.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @ FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.