Experts warn against using children as ‘marketing devices’

Reports | Retail
John Piekos, Safe and Free

Experts are warning against the dangers of using your children as ‘marketing devices’ – with fears it could lead to parents being sued in the future.

Images of children have long been used in advertising and research has found that pictures of babies grab our attention.

But professionals are warning parents, business owners and celebrities to exercise caution when sharing snaps of their offspring.

Philip Graves, a marketer at GWS Media in Queen Charlotte Street, Bristol, who has an 11-year-old child, said: “It tends to tear at the audience’s heartstrings when images of babies are used in marketing. They are usually perceived as eye-catching and inoffensive.

“But I think baby photos can also be embarrassing to sensitive older children. This is not to say you have to stop sharing such photos altogether.

“Instead, think about your child’s rights to privacy – or ask your child for permission when they are old enough to understand – before you post.”

Once images are posted online, it is difficult to fully remove them from the public domain.

Philip, who has been programming computers since the 1980s, added: “Any photo shared online or via offline digital media can be republished elsewhere by anyone able to view it, even if you delete it yourself.

“And even if you post family photos to a private account, if your log-in credentials are compromised, there is nothing to stop others publishing those pictures in public places.”

Legal risks of child photos

In the UK, it generally accepted that parents may share lawful photos of their children.

But in France, parents can face hefty fines and even imprisonment for posting photos of their children on social networks.

And one of the UK’s leading media law trainers and consultants has warned the UK could soon follow suit.

David Banks, who works with national and regional media, government and NGOs, said those who use their children as a ‘marketing device’ could face being sued in future.

David, who is a member of the Ministry of Justice advisory panel, said: “Some celebrities use their children as a marketing device on Instagram and Facebook, for example.

“Embarrassing photos used to just be shared with aunties and uncles. But now they can reach millions of people, which is disturbing.

“When these children grow up, they may not be happy to learn their images have been shared so widely. I wouldn’t be surprised if some did go onto sue their parents.

“Parents may take the view it’s their child and they can decide for them. But the courts take the view that the child’s welfare comes first. If this is compromised, parents could face legal consequences.”

David said it was about being sensible in the modern age. He said: “Before the internet, a photo of a child in the bath was seen as innocent – but now it may be seen as something sinister.

“A photo of a naked child is potentially legally problematic as it may be viewed as child pornography.”

Psychological impact

The use of social media is still a fairly new phenomenon and its psychological impact is not fully known.

Marina Sabolova, a counsellor and psychotherapist at OK Talk Counselling in Portishead, said: “This is the first generation born into and growing up with social media.  We are yet to fully understand its impact.

“Children have no control over what their parents share – but they still face the consequences.  So, it’s up to the adults to act responsibly.

“Young people are still getting to grips with their identities and it can be difficult to grow up in the public domain.

“Parents should respect their right to privacy and remember that we are all individuals – what one person may find funny, another may find embarrassing and upsetting.”

Safety online

Safe and Free, a charity set up to prevent grooming, child sexual exploitation (CSE) and human trafficking, warns parents about sharing information which could identify and locate their children.

Charity founder John Piekos, an ex-police officer, said: “Parents may warn children about the dangers of social media but be lax about their own accounts, thinking as adults it is less important.

“But parents can inadvertently put out information which builds up a bigger picture over time of their child’s identity and whereabouts. Once the information is out there, it’s difficult to regain control.

“For example, a photo of your child wearing a school blazer and its logo could tell people where your child is for most of the day, most of the year.”

John said to think about who you connect with on social media and to be aware of the ‘jigsaw effect’ – where different information, including on different platforms, could lead to putting a child at risk.

He added to ask other parents for permission if including photos of their children on your accounts.

He said: “There could be a care issue around a child that you may not know about, including possible risk of abduction, so if sharing photos of groups of children – gaining parental permission is important.

He added: “Photos shared years ago when a child was small, might not be what your teenager wants to be freely available on the internet and could also expose the child to teasing, and potential, bullying.”

He advised parents to search their own name on the internet and that of their child to find up what comes up in terms of information and photos – and take action if necessary.

Safe and Free offers FREE course to schools – highlighting the dangers of grooming and how young people can protect themselves – at

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