Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 November 2020

What age is right for a digital identity?

Currently under 13s are not permitted their own profile on Facebook. Dado Ruvic / Reuters
Currently under 13s are not permitted their own profile on Facebook. Dado Ruvic / Reuters

To share or not to share, that is the question. Facebook has put this dilemma to parents this week, with the launch of a new “scrapbook” feature, which allows parents to create a profile tag for a child.

Facebook noticed that parents were tagging each other on photos of their children. But the photos being shared make it hard for parents to manage photo collections. By creating a page for the child, these photos can be marshalled into one location. It’s a profile page for children in all but name, managed by parents. Currently under 13s are not permitted their own profile.

The development raises the question of when a child should be given a digital identity. An online survey called Digital Diaries conducted in 2010 and 2014 of 6,017 parents looked at children’s digital life in 10 countries around the world and found that a child’s digital identity typically started at the age of six months old. They described this as a period when “Sharenting trumps privacy”. Parental pride overcomes concerns about online privacy. By way of example, 30 per cent of parents had shared images of ultrasound scans.

As boundaries between the online and offline worlds have begun to merge, we need to start grappling with how we treat our digital presence. Putting aside digital naysayers, there’s an increasing feeling that if it’s not online, then it doesn’t exist. And the same applies to people. Like all technologies, the online world is as good as your interaction and use of it, with positives ranging from establishing social connections, generating business, engaging in activism and trading in digital currency. There are grey areas such as when universities and employers check websites and social media to learn more about prospective candidates. That’s great if they are viewing a carefully crafted online CV, but historic tweets or long forgotten Facebook photos can come back to haunt future life.

But there are also risks, and children are some of the most vulnerable to the dangers of having a public online identity. There’s a growing amount of theft of children’s identities. If date of birth and location are easily available, fraudsters are scamming using their details. Parents have to exercise caution about how much they share. And that’s even before the perils of digital photos falling into the wrong hands, which combined with geotagging can lead to unthinkable consequences.

Just as parents are responsible for teaching children how to conduct themselves in public in a socially suitable manner, and how to keep themselves safe, parents need to understand that offering digital guidance and education to children is an important element of their parenting duties. How to create a profile, how to manage it, how to interact in the digital space and how to maintain safety, security and reputation should not be left to chance nor excused through parental ignorance.

As parents, we think of babies as exciting events in our lives, whose presence, actions and words are within our gift to broadcast. But in publishing status updates, pictures and blog posts, we are creating an indelible footprint for their future, over which they have no control, but which will affect their lives.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk

Updated: April 10, 2015 04:00 AM

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