The evolution of the internet and social media has radically transformed the way we share the defining moments of our lives.
Photos of family celebrations posted on Facebook or birthday videos on Instagram have become commonplace. However, a survey conducted by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) reveals a disturbing and largely ignored truth. These harmless images of our children could well end up in the hands of child sex predators.
An impressive 72% of images in the possession of pedophiles come from completely legitimate, non-sexualized sources. These abusers get their material from family albums shared online and similar platforms. The carelessness of parents who document their children's lives online is thus transformed into a source of images for individuals with deviant tendencies.
“We tend to think that people who collect images of child sexual exploitation are only interested in the most explicit content,” explains UOC professor Irene Montiel. “However, the reality is that non-sexualized images of children are widely present in the collections of these abusers.”
Excessive sharing: a risky practice for our children
The UOC study shows that 89% of families regularly share images of their children on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok. This practice affects even the youngest, with 81% of babies appearing online before the age of six months. Parents who publish photos of ultrasounds, births or their offspring's first steps are not only violating their future digital identity, but also exposing them to unsuspected dangers.
Social networks: a tool for predators
Despite promises by Facebook, YouTube and other platforms to combat pedophilia, the systems in place remain insufficient. In 2019, YouTube's algorithm was criticized for suggesting videos of young children in skimpy clothing. Inappropriate comments and links to child pornography sites were discovered in the comments section of these videos.
In response to the scandal, the platform implemented a new system to identify and remove predatory comments. Similarly, YouTube has deactivated comments on most videos of minors to limit the attraction of abusers. However, these measures are only temporary and concern a limited number of content creators.
The role of parents in protecting their children's digital identity
The proliferation of automated moderation on social networks has made it almost impossible to enforce an effective system against predators. Sure, we could point the finger at Mark Zuckerberg and other big tech executives, but the responsibility for protecting minors ultimately lies with parents.
“We don't respect our children's privacy, which undermines their future digital identity. However, this is not the only risk. Identity theft, online fraud, grooming, cyberstalking, or turning this content into child sexual exploitation material are also potential threats,” warns UOC professor Irene Montiel.
It's essential to be aware of the dangers of over-exposing our children on social networks. A simple photo of a trip to the museum or park may seem innocent to you and your family, but not to a pedophile who will collect it on his computer. Before posting an image of your children on social networks, it's crucial to consider the associated risks.
I am a student and I am part of the editorial staff of thesilverink.com. I have the chance to enjoy writing, however, I also like to discuss all subjects and especially anything related to Science.