Can You Picture My Childhood?

04 October 2017

For the vast majority of children who have a parent in the public eye, their childhood is often well documented and photographed. But does it have to be this way?

An increasing issue is ‘Sharenting’ – whereby parents share all and sundry about their little ones. Even parents who do not share photographs of their children on social media can still find it hard to protect their children’s privacy, especially given how easy it is for friends and family to post a picture or information online without a second thought. All the effort to keep the pregnancy, birth and their childhood private can be undone in a second. Once a proud relative posts a picture, the whole world may be able to see what you had hoped to keep to your nearest and dearest.

Parents who are in the public eye face additional risks to their children’s privacy. The media and paparazzi are hungry for information and photographs and have a commercial interest in publishing this. Fans are equally interested, although their reasons for posting and sharing pictures are more likely to be driven by their desire to highlight how big a fan they are. Even businessmen and women can find that there is an interest in their children, particularly if this can be used as a pressure point against them or it has any relevance to commercial activities.   

The law treats all children the same. No matter how famous their parents, all children are entitled to privacy. The Courts have repeatedly said that having famous parents does not mean that your photographs and childhood is automatically fair game for the media. The media editors’ own code of conduct reflects this too. This means that legal and regulatory complaints can be made if privacy is breached, but how can you avoid this happening in the first place and what can parents do proactively to help protect their child’s privacy from these ever-present and increasing risks?  

Be careful with social media

It’s so easy and convenient to be able to share news and photographs about your children on social media, making it easy for journalists to source stories. To reduce this risk, you should:

  • Ask yourself, before you post any details about your children online, whether you would be happy with that information or those pictures appearing in the media. Think especially about whether to post photographs which don’t identify your child. Even if you post to private groups or pages, there’s always a chance that they will become more widely available.
  • Take care not to reveal your location which could tip off paparazzi and fans as to where you are or regularly visit.
  • Let your friends and family know of your privacy concerns. As it only takes one person to reveal photographs or information, letting them know that they too should be careful online will significantly reduce the risk of accidental disclosure.
  • Monitor who is posting what on social media about your child, so that you have an early warning system and can take action quickly to stop the spread of photographs and information. Any action should be taken quickly, as you should avoid creating a precedent that publishing photographs of your child is acceptable. 

Make your position known to paparazzi and the media

Parents’ disclosures and their attitude towards privacy is something that the media will consider when deciding whether to publish private information and photographs of a child. If the media know they will face complaints for publishing photographs and information, they are less likely to do so. Picture agencies will be less likely to take photographs they know they will not be able to sell or which could see them face privacy and harassment complaints. 

  • You can put picture agencies and the media on notice that you do not consent to any private photographs being taken and published. This sends a strong message and can discourage photographs being taken in the first place. This can be done proactively before any issues arise, or when you find your child being photographed or you are approached by the media seeking to publish them.
  • A number of parents in the public eye decide to publish one photograph of their child, in an attempt to avoid future paparazzi or media interest. This can work, but we recommend accompanying it with a polite notice to the media explaining that the photo has been released in order to prevent harassment and increase the chance of privacy, rather than to undermine it. 
  • Most media organisations will publish pixelated photographs of children when they know the parents do not consent. This might be sufficient for now, but technology is evolving rapidly and it is already possible for some pixilation or obscuring to be reversed. 

Be aware of your surroundings

A number of the ‘first’ photographs of children with famous parents are those where they are being taken to locations or events which are public or well-known for individuals to be photographed at. 

  • There’s no privacy on the red carpet or at Centre Court, but there is when you are taking your child to the park or shops. Don’t be afraid to do normal things with your child.
  • If you see the public or paparazzi take a photograph, you should politely ask them to delete the photographs, explaining you are protective of privacy. Don’t snatch their phones or cameras or demand they hand them over, as this will only make things worse. Keep calm and try and obtain a name or some information about them, so that complaints can be made later if necessary.

The steps outlined above should reduce the risk of your child’s private information or photographs being published. If not, and the paparazzi don’t respect your requests to leave you alone, or the media publish private information or photographs, swift legal complaints, or complaints to the media regulator IPSO can be made, seeking the removal of photographs and information from online and an end to any harassing conduct. This is naturally a last resort and all of the points above will be relevant to any complaint.   

Parents in the public eye should not have to treat their children any differently in order for them to enjoy the same privacy as children whose parents are not in the public eye. In reality, given the greater interest in them and their children, they do need to be a little more vigilant against the risks than most, but it is still possible for their children to enjoy a normal childhood, without everyone photographing it and seeing it.

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About the Author

Ben Hobbs

Partner

Ben specialises in reputation protection. His work covers defamation, privacy, harassment and intellectual property rights.

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