We need much stricter controls on the brands and influencers that share photos of children on social media, according to a paediatric consultant.
In a recent column for The Irish Examiner, Dr Niamh Lynch said we need to re-think how we use images of children on social media – calling for an end to what she called ‘digital child labour.’
She said children’s rights to privacy and safety were being breached without their consent, and often for financial gain.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, she said the article was in response to the rise in ‘sharenting’ and ‘mumfluencers.’
“Without picking one example - and that wouldn’t actually be fair because I think a bit of responsibility has to be taken by the social media companies themselves and by the companies that use these parents - but certainly there would be tales of children being clearly unhappy or tired or not in the mood and yet it has become their job to promote a product or endorse a product or whatever,” she said.
“These children are doing work and because they’re young, they can’t actually consent to that. Their privacy can sometimes be violated and there is a whole ethical minefield around it.”
'Digital child labour'
She said Ireland needs tighter legislation to protect children’s rights and privacy – and to ensure there is total transparency about the money changing hands.
“People don’t realise that these children are working,” she said. “These children are doing a job.
“It is a job that can at times compromise their safety. It is a job that compromises their privacy and it is certainly a job they are doing without any sort of consent.
“It is very different say with a child in an ad for a shopping centre or something like that. Where you see the face of the child, but you know nothing about them.
“These children, you know everything about them really in many cases.
“So yes, I would say there needs to be tighter legislation around it. It needs to be clear because very often it is presented within the sort of cushion of family life and the segue between what is family life and what is an ad isn’t always very clear.
“There needs to be more transparency really about transactions that go on in the background.”
She said there is a major issue around child safety when so much person l information is being shared.
“The primary concern would be the safety of the child because once a child becomes recognisable separate to the parent then there’s the potential for them to become a bit of a target,” she said.
“When you think about how much is shared about these children online, it is pretty easy to know who their siblings are, what their date of birth is, when they lost their last tooth, what their pet’s name is.
“There is a so much information out there about certain children and there are huge safety concerns around that then as well.”
Dr Lynch said we won’t know the impact of many children for at least another decade; however, children that featured in early YouTube videos are already coming out and talking about what an “uncomfortable experience” it was for them.
“I think the parents themselves to a degree perhaps are also being exploited by large companies who are using them to use their child to promote products,” she said.
“So, I think large companies certainly need to take responsibility and perhaps we should call those companies out when we see that online.”
“The social media companies really should tighten up as well.”
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