Should you post photos of other people’s children online?

This was the question asked to Farhad Manjoo and Emily Yoffe on their Slate Podcast, Manners for the Digital Age. The situation was a child’s birthday party where the host posted pictures of the children on her personal blog. After the party, a mother of a child who attended called the host to request that pictures including her child be removed.


Many listeners believed that this mother’s request was reasonable. Some people believed that this mother didn’t have to give a reason. She, as the mother, wanted the pictures down so that’s what should happen. Others believed that posting the pictures violated her child’s legal right to privacy.

On the face of it, I can understand why some parents feel that the party host was wrong to post the pictures without the other parents consent. As the parent, it seems entirely reasonable that you should be the one to decide when and where your child’s image is made public.

But let’s face it: when was the last time you went to a kid’s birthday party when most of the people there weren’t whipping out their cell phones and taking pictures? All it takes is one really cute picture for parents to post it on every social networking site they use.

We don’t have social events without cameras anymore.  I can think of several social situations where my children’s pictures were posted on people’s Facebook pages without asking my permission. End of year soccer pizza dinners, Halloween parties, and playing in someone’s backyard immediately come to mind.

Regardless of how we feel about it, the reasonable expectation should be our participation in social events will be posted online rather than not.

Majoo and Joffe also asked Carolyn E. Wright, a lawyer who specializes in photography and law, to clarify how one’s right to privacy is defined when your picture is taken. According to Wright, you’re legally allowed to take someone’s picture unless there is an expectation of privacy. Walking in the street, reading a book in your living room with the blinds open, and people taking pictures at a party, are all scenarios where there is no expectation of privacy. If you’re in a public bathroom, reading a book in your living room with the blinds closed, or hanging out at someone's house where there are no cameras, there is an expectation of privacy.

Important to note is that the law defines the privacy of the moment when the picture is taken; not when it’s posted online.

So clearly the host was not legally violating the child’s right to privacy when she took the picture or posted it later on her blog.

But the higher goal is how to have good relations with other parents and respect their wishes for their child. To that end, here’s my suggestion for addressing this problem:

If you are the host:

Let people know that you plan to post pictures of the party so if anyone objects, they can let you know. When pictures are taken, the child can be removed from view.  (If you’re saying that removing the child socially penalizes the child, that’s being unrealistic. If the parent really doesn’t want his child in pictures than this problem is going to come up repeatedly. In that case, the parent who doesn’t want the pictures taken has to communicate that to their child).

If you are the parent who doesn’t want things posted:

Like any parental concern you have when your child is in someone else’s care, you need to let them know what’s going on. As was mentioned in the podcast, think of it as if your child has an allergy. Just like you would ask if there are nuts in the food, ask the host if they plan to take pics. If so, just ask that your child be seated outside the camera view.

This may feel like an example of technology changing the basic rules of conduct in uncomfortable ways. While these shifts are undoubtedly true, it’s critical to take the time to understand the context for how these changes occur and what’s reasonable to expect from each other. And what doesn’t change is the more important value that we place on being considerate of each other and valuing our different perspectives. If we operate from that place, our relationships with each other will be strong and our children taken care of in the right way.

Do you agree that we now should expect for pictures to be posted online from social activities, like parties? If pictures were posted of you or your children after a party, would you feel that you privacy was violated? Do you share photos of yourself and your children having fun with their friends on your social networking sites or personal blogs? Share in the comments below.