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In today’s digital era, the act of sharing photos, videos, and entertaining stories about children’s lives on social media has become run-of-the-mill—so much so that it merits a name: ‘Sharenting.’ Illinois recently enacted the first law in the US regulating sharenting practices, and several other states are working on similar legislation. Interestingly, the US approach to sharenting differs from that of our European counterparts, so while the practice exists on both sides of the pond, how we share and regulate content highlights our distinctly different social values.

The Sharenting Spectrum

Sharenting refers to the general practice of sharing online family content that includes one’s children. While all of it is called sharenting, there is a distinction between regular people sharing personal family content with their private group of friends and family and influencers who deliberately create, curate, and monetize their family content—sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars. And while in the US, some influencers minimize or completely abstain from posting images or any details about their children, others have capitalized on their children’s pictures and personalities, turning them into what some have termed “micro-microcelebrities.”

Comparing Approaches: The US and France

Differing Attitudes

While attitudes toward privacy vary, Americans take a relatively open approach to how we exhibit our children online. We also place a greater emphasis on regulating income generated by sharenting than we do on its privacy implications. Case in point: the new Illinois law ensures that children are compensated for their work in any monetized content but does not confront issues of privacy. While most social media platforms don’t allow children to have their accounts until age thirteen, TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram are flooded with pages managed by parents, documenting everything from birth videos to potty training, as well as birthday parties, performances, and so on. American society is relatively unguarded, eagerly sharing their children’s private activities and moments, their audiences of thousands (and sometimes millions) avidly following each funny dance video, first bites of solid food, and toy unboxing. Companies and marketing agencies have welcomed these young product ambassadors, paying their parents handsomely for turning regular children into Kidfluencers.

Contrast this with France. French culture places great value on personal privacy and takes a more reserved approach to sharing details of their children’s private lives. The French protect their children’s digital footprints and guard them from outsiders. And while France certainly has plenty of parenting bloggers and influencers, there is an overall sense of caution, emphasizing privacy and consent, and a clear separation between friends and followers:

Differing Legal Approaches

As a member of the EU, France is also bound by its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR directly impacts sharenting practices, placing stringent requirements for parental consent before sharing a child's data online. The French parliament is currently considering an anti-sharenting bill that might allow a judge to restrict parents' right to share images of their child “if deemed excessive or harmful.” Current French legislation regulates the hours children under sixteen may work online and how their families handle their income. It gives children the right to have their images removed from and all social media platforms. Contrast that with the US, where regulating privacy concerns for children exists in just Illinois (with Washington and California considering similar legislation) with no comprehensive federal law similar to Europe’s GDPR. There are some efforts to bring the issue of child privacy to the fore; however, so far, it is almost entirely up to the individual to decide how to protect (or not) their children’s digital exposure.

For those unconvinced by France’s serious approach, here are some aspects to consider before sharing your child’s image or other personal details:

-Your Child’s Digital Footprint: Sharenting culture disregards the long-term result of sharing their children online, but a child’s behavior, images, and other data contribute to a cumulative digital profile—one with privacy and security implications that will stay with that child into adulthood.

-Cyberbullying: Many argue that any celebrity willing to offer themselves up to the public has traded away any right to be treated with compassion and respect. Yet we routinely expose Kidfluencers to harassment through hateful comments, threatening emails, and malicious gossip.

-Exposure to Child Predators: Geotagging and access to shared photos is a goldmine for child predators hoping to pinpoint the exact locations of potential victims. Details as banal as a barely visible street sign or a school name printed on a child’s uniform put children at risk. Keeping family photos and videos public increases the chances that images of your child could end up on child pornography websites.

-Identity theft: The level of personal information shared without explicit consent makes both kidfluencers and regular kids vulnerable. School and pet names, addresses, and photos ---all can be used to create fake profiles or to establish credit.

“I never consented to being online.”

This year, Teen Vogue posted a story featuring a former Kidfluencer, now a teen. In it, she speaks candidly about her experience:

“It’s not fair that I have to support everyone…I try not to be resentful but I kind of [am].”

In the article, we learn that when she told her father she didn’t want to post videos anymore, he told her they would have to move out of their house. She has no idea how much money she has earned has been saved for her, which is perfectly legal in her state.

Another kidfluencer mentioned in the article:

“To any parent considering starting a family vlog or monetizing your children’s lives on the public internet, here is my advice: you shouldn’t do it…. Any money you get will be greatly overshadowed by years of suffering…your child will never be normal. I never consented to being online.”

The desire to protect children is universal. Regardless of country or cultural differences, we can all agree that when strangers stalk and harass children, when children worry that their classmates have seen their most embarrassing childhood photos, or when parents choose to earn millions in endorsement deals over giving their children a normal childhood, this is exploitation—even when it is put through a pretty Instagram filter.

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