Social media is the modern brag book for parents. The phenomenon of “sharenting” has created a culture of oversharing with unintended consequences. How? Within those posts, parents may be listing dangerous hashtags that can put their children and family in risky situations.
How Real Is the Danger?
It’s not happening to every child or family, but it has happened and the risk is very real.
Dr. Stacey Steinberg, University of Florida law professor and digital parenting expert, wrote about one incident in a paper entitled Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media. She mentions a mommy blogger who posted photos of her twin toddlers potty training. The photos were downloaded by strangers, shared on websites around the world and made into memes.
While the memes seemed cute at first, the mother came to regret her actions. People said whatever they wanted, and there were likely creepy people viewing them as well. Once content is out on the web, there’s no way to delete those photos. And while not everyone has bad intentions, there are pedophiles, predators, and stalkers out there. So, it’s important to protect yourself.
Find out the dangerous hashtags you may be using, other unintended identifiers you’re leaving behind, and how you can share family joys without putting anyone at risk.
Who’s Seeing Your Photos?
A recent report by the UK Children’s Commissioner forecasts that by 2030 sharenting will be the cause of two-thirds of all identify fraud, costing victims millions to remedy. It’s easy to see how, considering these stats from the same report:
- On average, by the age of 13, parents have posted 1,300 photos and videos of their child to social media.
- On average, children post to social media 26 times per day – a total of nearly 70,000 posts by age 18.
Likewise, the Child Rescue Coalition says that:
- 90% of children have a social media presence before their 2nd birthday, but…
- 89% of parents haven’t checked their child’s privacy settings within the last year.
This can leave a young person’s Instagram, Facebook, and other social sites open to predators—which is especially scary since 85% of child predators go on to abuse children in real life.
While many consider Facebook harmless, they often overlook another fact stated in the UK report — Facebook users barely know one in five of their “Facebook friends.” This leaves the door open for veritable strangers to use your child’s information for the purpose of identity theft or worse.
How Hashtags Work
(If you know this stuff, feel free to click to the next page to get to the dangerous hashtags parents need to know.)
Hashtags are clickable links used on social media messages and photos so that others can find similar posts on that topic. For example, fitness enthusiasts often use #beastmode when they succeed at a physically challenging act, or when someone in the LGBTQ community wants other like-minded people to find their post they may use #LGBTQ or #gay.
Proper use of hashtags can lead to increased engagement on posts, help build a brand, and bring more people to your post or business. At Parentology, we use #parentology on our posts to help build our brand visibility.
However, that hashtag can also be used against someone. In LGBTQ example, if a person wants to “troll” a queer person, they may click on the #LGBTQ hashtag to find others they want to harass. There are also predators who can use hashtags to stalk photos of babies and young children.
Dangerous Hashtags Parent Need to Know
The Child Rescue Coalition lists a hundred hashtags that predators use. While many seem innocent to most adults, they could attract the wrong type of audience to your post. We’ve listed the most notable here, in alphabetical order. We created these slides so they were easy to review, but we also include a link to the CRC’s webpage at the end, so you can download the PDF document there.
Another danger parents don’t think about? Geo-targeting…
Family Risks of Geolocation
Taking a break from hashtags at the moment (but we have more in this article for you), here’s a related concern. Have you considered how social media geolocation features can also put your entire household at risk?
Did you know that posting vacation photos can increase your risk of robbery? While it may be fun to show everyone the great time you’re having, it lets people know your house is sitting empty — or at least isn’t as occupied as it normally would be. So it may be wise to save posting those images until you’re back home.
The other option? Make your Instagram or other social media account private, and only share information with friends and family. This is still a risk — you don’t know if those people are innocently sharing your photos with someone else — but it does reduce your chances of that information falling into the wrong hands. We have more tips on how to protect yourself and your family later in this story.
Now, here are more dangerous hashtags…
Dangerous Hashtags, Continued
Geolocation Puts Children at Risk
There are more hashtags to follow in this article, but here’s another warning you need to know: How geolocation can specifically be a risk to your child’s safety.
There are more dangerous hashtags below, but we should take a moment to remind parents that placing your geolocation on social media posts also puts your child at risk.
Adding a location to a post about your child can inadvertently provide information to a predator. For example, if you post photos of a sporting event that you’re attending to support your child — especially on a regular basis — it lets people know where your child will be at certain times of the day. It also inadvertently lets people know their school, league, or playground.
Images with landmarks such as your school, your home with a visible house address, your car’s license plate number, clothing with school or team logos can all provide clues that make children easy to track.
Here’s the last set of dangerous hashtags you should know and avoid using…
Dangerous Hashtags — Continued
Most Common Dangerous Hashtags
If there are just a few hashtags you take away from this post, it should be these.
The full PDF from the Child Rescue Coalition can be found here.
Privacy Measures You Should Take
There are also a number of simple safety precautions you and your family can (and should) take. See what they are...
Privacy Measures You Should Take
When was the last time you checked the privacy settings on your social media? It might be time for a tune-up. Parentology’s Parental Controls section is a great starting point — especially if you have older children using Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat.
If you want to share photos of your children’s successes and big life events (And who doesn’t?), consider using an invitation-only sharing platform such as DropBox or iCloud. Making your Instagram and similar social accounts private can also help, but they’re not foolproof.
Identity theft using technology is a growing concern and we could be exposing our kids to risk. In 2019, photos from Flickr ended up in a giant database — including images of kids — and researchers showed how easy it was to commit identity theft of this action. Bottom line? Protect your photos.
And here’s what everyone else in your family needs to do…
Make Sure Everyone Knows Proper Behavior
You can’t control everyone’s actions, so make sure the people in your life know the following.
Control who is able to see their public profile and images, and to what extent. For example, can they see your child’s birthday, a list of family members, every picture they have posted, or nothing at all?
All the information your child shares online can be used against them in the form of stalking, bullying, identify theft and more. Restricting what’s visible can help limit what stalkers can do with your child’s information.
Shut off location tracking on your child’s device and don’t have them tag anyone in a location unless it’s absolutely necessary or super generic. Otherwise, every post, picture, and story your child shares will be visible to the general public.
And the greatest security measure of them all?
Talk to Your Kids
Bullying prevention tells our children that they shouldn’t share without permission. Parents need to start following that rule as well. Digital footprints are built from birth. So, once a child is old enough to have their own social accounts, cultivate respect with them by opening the communication about what you share about them and why. Setting boundaries and thinking long term empowers children to set their own healthy limits. If parents overshare, that encourages children to do the same as they develop and create their own content.
Finally, review your social media accounts, tuning in to photos or information that could either put your child at risk or cause them future embarrassment.