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Parents: Keep your guard up on social media
By Linda Alberts
Fall is near. Soon your social media feeds will fill up with adorable kids posing for First Day of School pictures. You can also expect plenty of photos of youngsters on the field clad in their football, cheerleading or soccer uniforms.
With social media’s ever-increasing integration in our lives, moms and dads are lowering their guard when it comes to posting pictures of their children on the Internet. According to a recent study by the University of Michigan, 51 percent of parents include personal information alongside their social media photos that could identify a child's location.
Today’s technology appears to be both a blessing and curse. While it has bridged gaps between families and friends dispersed across the country, and even the world, it also leads the way to predators with malicious intentions.
“I don’t think most parents realize that when they post pictures of their kids online, they are leaving a digital footprint,” says Nancy McBride, national safety director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “If you’re not careful you can lose control of the picture.”
So, is posting pictures of your children on social media safe? Yes, but McBride stresses only with certain conditions.
“Our use of social media isn’t going to decrease anytime soon,” she says. “Parents can be proactive by taking advantage of privacy settings to make sure their photos are only shared with the people they want to see them.”
Update your account’s privacy settings
If you’re going to post pictures of your children on social media, you need to consider your account’s privacy settings. Set your account to private or “friends only” so your posts are not available to the public. You’ll receive a notification when someone wants to follow you. You have the choice to either accept or deny their request.
If you’re not sure what your Facebook privacy settings are, Facebook offers a helpful tool called Privacy Checkup to help you review and update your account settings.
You may have 600 people on your Facebook friends list but do you really know all those people, and do you really want to give them access to moments of your life – or your child’s?
A seemingly innocent photo of your child at the bus stop on the first day of school can provide a predator with a wealth of information, like the bus stop location, pick up time and what your child looks like.
“The background of a photo can give away all kinds of information,” says McBride. “Parents need to use their smarts when posting pictures online. They need to use good judgement.”
You can choose to pare down your friends list to just the people you really know or create a custom list, say of just your parents, brothers, sisters, best friends, in-laws, etc. Then when you upload a photo of your child, select to share the photo with that specific list.
Disable geotagging on your smartphone
“Disabling the geotagging on your phone’s camera is another way parents can protect their photos and their children,” says McBride.
When you take a photo with your smartphone’s camera, it uses GPS to determine where you are and embeds that information into the picture. Yes, anyone who gets a hold of your photo can find the location of where you took that picture. Here are simple step-by-step instructions to disable the geotagging feature on cameras for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry.
Use a photo-sharing website
Aside from adjusting your account privacy settings for the social media sites you use, McBride suggests parents use photo-sharing websites that require login information in order to view photos. While the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children doesn’t endorse any specific photo-sharing websites, this writer suggests parents look into websites like Shutterfly or Snapfish, which offers free, private online spaces shared by invitation only. Meaning, the only people who can view the photos are the people you invite so you have complete control over who sees your photos.
Teach your kids
Today’s youth is the first generation to have social media as part of their everyday life. It’s not too early to start teaching your children how to navigate the online world safely. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has developed the NetSmartz Workshop, an interactive, educational program designed to educate children ages 5-17 about online safety through entertaining resources, like videos, games, activity cards and presentations.
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