Most people agree that oversharing on social media is dangerous. So, what about the dangers of hashtags? Do parents put their children at risk by using innocent tags, such as #bathtime or #familyvacations?
According to FOX29 Philadelphia, the simple answer is yes. To better understand the issue, Parentology spoke to a cybersecurity professional and social media expert about the dangers of using hashtags. Here’s what you need to know about how hashtags put children at risk and what you can do to protect them.
Hashtags Provide Online Access to Minors
Before becoming an SEO and social media specialist, Brett Downes was a swimming instructor. He became worried by parents who did not think twice about capturing children and their friends in bathing suits by the swimming pool. This was right before the digital age took off. It has only become worse. FOX29 estimates that 90% of children end up with their images on social media before turning 2 years old.
“The most worrying thing is that you pinpoint your photos,” Downes explains to Parentology. “One generic hashtag will put you in thousands of gallery photos; however, a lot of parents will use their [child’s] name with another variable which makes theirs unique.”
This means it’s very easy to find that specific child.
Pictures Give Personal Details Away
Many parents believe they ensure their children’s safety by avoiding geotags and never disclosing details of what school the child attends. However, as the old cliché goes, a picture tells a thousand words. Downes points out that by studying the photos, shady characters can gather the following types of information:
- General geographic location
- Friends and family
Predators Use Hashtags to Lure Kids
Some predators are content to look, which is disturbing in itself. This may constitute a crime depending on the type of material they look at and store on their devices. Some then go the extra mile of targeting and luring children to them.
Chelsea Brown is a certified cybersecurity consultant. She works with both families and businesses and describes herself as a child safety advocate. She says, “It can even lead to children being tracked and targeted for kidnapping when parents are careless with posting their location information even if it’s a big public place. Predators can search for buildings and common landmarks … to locate children.”
Parents Can Get Proactive
When it comes to rectifying the problem, Brown says, “I’d recommend talking to law enforcement to learn more on the specific hashtags predators use. [Officers] are the ones who actually … track those hashtags to find and convict predators online and in person.” Parents may then use this information to adjust their posting habits.
Experts claim that the safest action parents can take to protect their children is not to post them on social media. However, some parents may find this too restricting. At the very least, consider keeping the account private, sticking to generic hashtags, or not using hashtags at all.
When parents post pictures online, they cannot retain full control of that content. Innocently shared photos may then end up in the hands of predators and shared on the dark web. Because parents cannot undo sharing, pause before posting to think about the content and potential hashtag dangers.