The New Paper
25 May 2016
Student Hazel Lim, 15, was stunned when she received WhatsApp messages from four of her friends last year, each containing photos of her nine-year-old self.
The photos showed her as a model wannabe, even posing with her hand on her head while flaunting the clothes she was wearing.
The pictures were so embarrassing that she declined to have them published for this article.
Her friends had gotten hold of the pictures by being Facebook friends with her mother, Madam May Liew, who has been posting photos of Hazel since the teenager was nine.
Hazel told The New Paper: "I was extremely embarrassed but laughed it off anyway. I obviously did not know exactly what Facebook was when I was nine.
"I asked my mother to delete the pictures, but she said that they were too cute to be deleted."
For Madam Liew, 48, posting family pictures online is a way of documenting shared memories.
Madam Liew, who runs a stationery manufacturing company with her husband and also has a 21-year-old son, said: "Sometimes, Hazel would complain about the photos that were taken when she was younger, but I choose not to delete them for memories' sake.
"It is also easier to store the photos on a single platform so I don't have to worry about losing them when I change my mobile phone."
Thankfully for Hazel, the surfacing of her old photos was a one-time occurrence as her "friends have gotten sick" of teasing her for it.
Today, Madam Liew, who has 63 friends on Facebook, continues to post pictures of Hazel, but mostly of two of them together on special occasions such as Mother's Day.
But Mrs Lim could end up in jail for a year or be fined up to 45,000 euros (S$70,000) for posting pictures of her young daughter - if she was in France, that is.
French authorities recently warned parents against posting "embarrassing" photographs of their children online and "publicising intimate details of the private lives of others - including their children - without their consent", reported The Telegraph.
Calling this law "ridiculous", full-time Singapore blogger Wendy Cheng, also known as Xiaxue, told TNP: "If I dress my son up as a kitten during Halloween, is that considered embarrassing? Who decides what is considered embarrassing?"
With more than 614,000 followers on Instagram, the 32-year-old, who is married to an American, frequently posts pictures of her three-year-old son Dashiel on her social media accounts.
Dashiel has also appeared in videos that Ms Cheng hosts for online television network clicknetwork.
Ms Cheng said: "This law will only be logical if the pictures are sexual. But I think for newborns and little boys, topless shots are still acceptable.
"Besides, nothing can be more traumatic for a child than his parent going to jail."
French police said the warning was in response to the "danger of paedophiles targeting children after seeing family photographs online".
Some French parents were also forced to remove naked pictures of babies or young children from their social networks, reported The Telegraph.
While parents TNP spoke to agreed that stalkers and paedophiles are a real concern in Singapore, they have not received any disturbing comments online.
But parents, especially those whose social media accounts have a wide reach, should be mindful of certain boundaries, said Singapore blogger Ang Chiew Ting, better known as Bong QiuQiu.
Ms Ang, 28, who has more than 294,000 followers on Instagram, created another account dedicated to pictures of her daughter Meredith even before she was born.
Meredith, now one, has more than 65,000 followers.
Ms Ang said: "I know of bloggers who do not censor their child's private parts, but I think that there should be a line to it.
"I don't post any half-naked pictures of Meredith. My posts also don't have any location tags. I'm especially careful as Meredith is a girl and she is growing older."
Another parent, Mr Alvin Low, 33, said the law seems like an "overreaction".
The owner a creative enrichment company posts pictures of his two-year-old son Koby on his Instagram account, which has more than 1,200 followers.
Mr Low, who holds classes in primary and secondary schools: "(Doing so) is a way for me to connect with my students. Many of my students, including primary school kids, follow me on social media because of my son.
"I then use social media to try to motivate my students and share certain values."
While Mr Low said that whatever is considered "embarrassing" can be subjective, he added that parents should ensure their posts do not cause any discomfort.
"I guess a picture is generally embarrassing when it makes its viewers go 'Oh my gosh' instead of 'Aww'," he said.
Social media and international communications expert Lars Voedisch of PRecious Communications told TNP that compared with the past - when parents would show off photos of their children in their wallet - the Web seems like a natural platform today because of its convenience.
But he added that parents should protect their children's modesty and privacy.
Mr Voedisch said: "We should be very wary of what we share online, and this applies not just to photos of children but also general private information."
While there has not been any research on children being psychologically affected by parents posting photos of them online, the Internet presence can affect one's childhood experiences, given this day and age, said Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre.
He said: "What looks cute when a child is two years old may look different when the child grows up to be a teenager. If someone uncovers an unflattering photo and makes fun of the child when he is older, it may hurt his self-esteem."
French parents face one year's jail, hefty fine
French parents are being warned to stop posting pictures of children on social networks, in case their offspring later sue them for breaching their right to privacy or jeopardising their security.
The embarrassment it could cause children is also a legitimate reason for them to later take their parents to court.
Under France's stringent privacy laws, parents could face penalties as severe as a year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros (S$70,000) if found guilty of publicising the intimate details of the private lives of others, including their children, without their consent.
A 2015 study by Internet company Nominet found that parents in the UK post nearly 200 photos of their under-fives online every year, The Guardian Online reported.
This means a child will feature in around 1,000 online photos before he or she turns five.
"Your favourite picture of your child sitting on the potty for the first time may not be their favourite picture of themselves when they're 13," author and child psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair was quoted as saying in the report.
The new laws come at a time when concerns about infringing privacy, safety and security have increased.
Said Professor Nicola Whitton of Manchester Metropolitan University: "I think we're going to get a backlash in years to come from young people coming to realise that they've had their whole lives, from the day they were born, available to social media.
"Parents have to work out what's right for them, but be aware that this is another person, another human being, who may not thank them for it in 15 years to come."
Professor Sonia Livingston of the London School of Economics said parents should be open with their children about what they wish to share, with whom and why.
This is because sharing a photograph with 50 friends is quite different from sharing it with 500 random people.
Also, many parents do not check their Facebook privacy settings.
Experts, however, pointed out that social sharing is not inherently bad for children.
Sharing pictures can benefit children, for example, by helping to maintain connections with family members.
They also point out that if a child does not like a photo posted by their parent, he could ask them to take it down.
If that's not possible, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have reporting functions to request that photos be removed.
On Facebook, if a third party has posted the image and refuses to take it down, parents themselves can request the removal of a photo of a child under 13, while those 14 and over are expected to make the report themselves.
Mr Jay Parikh, a vice-president of Facebook, said the social media giant might develop a notification system to warn parents against putting up pictures of their children that have no privacy settings on them.
See photos related to the article in the gallery below.