How to navigate child consent in the digital era

With college students, obviously, we assume that they are young adults–even there, we still need to do a lot more to educate them as they, too, struggle deal with the ramifications of privacy in a networked world where exposure can get out of control much quicker and in hard-to-anticipate manner.

— Your Children are not Your Children, a post by Zeynep Tufekci in response to recent exposure of children in the media by their parents and journalists. Tufekci objects to the widespread oversimplification of privacy that if there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just fine to make it public, and points to the risks of exposure for children far below the age of reasonable consent.

Many adults are now diligent documenters of their own milestones and minutia through images on social networks and newly-quantifiable data captured through apps and wristbands. Young hipsters transform seemingly overnight into dads who post everything from in utero shots to Vine video of their toddlers daily. Was the 2009 David After Dentist video intended to be exploitative, or a way to share an amusing parental anecdote in a contemporary way?

It’s a more complex world in which parents now navigate child consent. Parents receive pressure from schools to sign blanket image consent forms, which meant a lot less when the biggest risk was a flattering shot in a private school marketing brochure or a spelling bee win on the cover of the community weekly. There’s a structural lag for both individual parental and social/institutional approaches to privacy in the internet era, and most are making it up as they go along. And, as Tufekci points out above, college students are not magically immune, but face similar challenges figuring out privacy boundaries and the ramifications of broad exposure.

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