What does Online Safety mean to You?

If I say the words online safety to you, what do you think of? It may be keeping your computer password protected – and not using your maiden name and date of birth as the password.

You may think of how careful you are not to put too much information online about yourself – not divulging your address or date of birth. You might think of the fact you have your social media accounts with the highest level of privacy on them. Or you may think about how your children’s tablets have the highest level of parental controls and how they won’t be having their own social media accounts until very far in the future.

But, when you think of internet safety do you ever think about how your use of the online world affects the people around you? Would you even think twice about putting pictures on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter of your child’s birthday party, the school choir singing in the local town or a family gathering in your garden?

Every time we go to a school event the teachers will say, without fail, that you are free to take photos but they are for personal use and are not to be shared on social media. There are always eye rolls and a mild hum of yeah yeah, we know. But, do people really understand the implication of sharing photos of other people online?

The thing you may not realise about some children in your child’s school or other schools in your town is that there will be ones who have protection orders in place. There are ones who cannot be photographed. There are ones who cannot have their photo shared online. There are ones who have completely new identities, sometimes new families, ones under the care of social services and ones who have been through more than you or I could ever imagine.

In some cases those children have been removed from situations, placed in a new school and kept away from prying eyes that scour the internet looking for them. There may be a relative with a grievance or even just a parent who has lost access wanting to know where that child is.

The moment that child appears on social media and someone recognises them, mentioning to a friend that they saw the child online, in completely different school uniform or in a completely different town, the protection that they have been given fades, and sometimes even disappears, making that child vulnerable all over again.

When you share photos on your completely private, locked down Facebook account but tag a few friends in them – at a birthday party, night out or social event – they will often be visible to not just your friends but the friends of the people tagged in the photos. Within minutes a whole town can have access to a single post you share unless you make sure each and every post you create is viewable only by your friends list – and the people you tag. But even then, how well do any of us know every single person on our Facebook friends list?

The only way of really making sure that you aren’t invading someone else’s privacy is by making sure you have permission of the people in the photos – or their parents – before you share any photos or information online.

When you have a birthday party for your child make sure the other parents are happy with their child being in the photos that you share on social media. If you go to a school event really keep the photos for personal use and only share ones of your own child. When you go to a local event in town don’t share photos with other people in them unless you have their permission.

This may seem like overkill but you really don’t know anyone else’s story. The new child at school may have an incredibly intricate past. The girl dancing in the field during the May Day celebrations may have only just moved to town away from a violent parent. Your colleague in the corner at the office party may be a victim of domestic abuse and photos of her online, at the party, may make things difficult for her at home.

These are just examples and they may seem far fetched but you can never be too careful. As a blogger I have had it drummed in to me to only share images of people with permission. But, I have also taken time to learn why this is just so important.

I take time to remove the children’s school badges from photos and to blur out the other children in sports day photos. I don’t share birthday party photos online, instead sharing them privately within a Whatsapp group with the other parents who were there.

People are so, so careful to follow internet safety measures, to keep their own lives as secure online as possible. But do we really do as much as we can to protect the privacy of others online as well? I really don’t think many people even give it a second thought.

We all have groups of friends that we’re comfortable with, where we know how the others feel about the internet and sharing photos online. I have friends who don’t want their photo – or their children’s photo – online and we abide by that happily. But what if you don’t know someone so well? Do you post their picture anyway, have a conversation about it or just don’t post it, preferring to err on the side of caution?

If someone doesn’t want their photo taken or shared online you might think they’re uptight, a killjoy or so many other things. But there is probably a really good reason for not wanting their photos in the public domain.

99% of the time it’s absolutely fine to share photos but always have that other 1% of the time in your mind. If in doubt, just don’t share it and send it to the people in the picture privately instead. Internet safety isn’t just about you – it’s about everyone you come into contact with.

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