When the Child is Born into the Internet :
Sharenting as a Growing Trend among Parents
Parents actively share information about their children on Facebook, but
little research has explored the extent of this issue. e goal of this paper is
to theorize anew type of parents’ online activities concerning their children,
especially the problem of sharenting, which is increasingly common in contexts
where social media such as Facebook play asigniﬁcant role in relationships and
interactions. is paper explores what kind of baby pictures parents share on
Facebook and what are the likely causes of doing it. e presented research was
conducted with the use of social media ethnography among 168 Polish parents
using Facebook. e ﬁndings have shown that the phenomenon of sharenting
is common practice among parents.
Keywords: children exposure, digital risks, Facebook, online privacy, social media,
Today’s parents are raising children in a digital-ﬁrst culture, facing more
unique parenting problems than previous generations. But as anew generation
of adults joins the ranks of parents, Facebook seems to be avery easy platform
to dealing with new or diﬃcult challenges associated with their children – even
for parentswhose time is ascarce commodity. erefore, they share the joys and
challenges of parenthood and document children’s lives publicly with increasing
226 Anna Brosch
frequency, which has almost become asocial norm. Consequently, many children
have aplethora of pictures, posts and updates about their lives on social media
before they can even walk.
is kind of activity is called sharenting and has been deﬁned by Collins Dic-
tionary as “the practice of aparent to regularly use the social media to communi-
cate alot of detailed information about their child” (Sharenting, as cited in: Collins
Dictionary). e phenomenon of sharing and disclosure of intimate information
about children by their parents through social media is growing rapidly. erefore,
it has become asubject of research by increasing numbers of scholars worldwide.
At the end of 2014, the University of Michigan’s C.S.Mott Children’s Hospital
National Poll on Children’s Health conducted research among 569 parents of
children aged 0 – 4 (Davis, 2015). According to the survey, 56% mothers and 34%
fathers share information related to parenting in social media. Over 70% parents
who use social media know of another parent who has given information that
might embarrass achild (56%), oﬀered personal information that could identify
achild’s location (51%), or photos of achild perceived as inappropriate (27%).
Another research has been conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of
Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) using data from an online nationwide sur-
vey of 589 parents of children aged 6 to 17. According to the “Parents, Privacy &
Technology Use” report, released in November 2015, among the parents who have
asocial networking account, nearly 20% share information online about achild,
which he/she may ﬁnd embarrassing in the future. What is more, one out of ten
parents was asked by their own child to remove some information about him/her
that was posted online by the parent (Family Online Safety Institute, 2015, p. 22).
Undoubtedly, in the era of camera-phones the most common practice on
social networking sites is sharing photographs. Every 60 seconds 136,000 photos
(zephoria.com) are uploaded on Facebook. Today’s parents willingly share photos
of their children. In some research the number of parents who post pictures of
their children on Facebook reaches even 98% (Bartholomew et al., 2012). However,
mothers are more willing to post photos of their children. Perhaps they prefer
sharing photos online because communication via photographs is easier and faster
than telling astory (cf.: Jomhari et al., 2009).
Parents post online an enormous number of pictures to chronicle almost every
moment of their children’s life – from the birth through the ﬁrst steps and starting
school to teenage years. e research conducted in 2010 by AVG Technologies
found that, on average, children acquire adigital identity by the age of six months.
But in many cases, these online practices start even before the birth of achild,
when expectant mothers share sonogram images of their unborn children (AVG
227When the Child is Born into the Internet
Technologies, 2010). In that way, Facebook has become a“modern day baby book”
(Kumar & Schoenebeck, 2015), where children are becoming micro-celebrities in
their communities (Marwick, 2013, p. 10).
ere is no doubt that Facebook oﬀers today’s parents aunique opportunity to
exchange experiences and happiness about their parenthood or search for help
with parenting issues. But the problems arise when they share embarrassing or too
personal information about their children and therefore run arisk of breaching
Another serious issue related to sharenting is aphenomenon called “digital kid-
napping”, where strangers steal baby photos and repost them across the Internet as
if the child was their own (O’Neill, 2015). As aresult, the child is given anew name
and anew story to start acompletely new online life. But it should be emphasised
that kidnapping is acrime independently of where it is committed. Sharenting may
also expose children to ridiculing by strangers. An extreme example was the secret
Facebook group consisting of mothers who were taking photos of children from
other Facebook accounts before re-posting them online and making fun of the chil-
dren (Parker, 2013). More importantly, the victims were children with disabilities.
Unfortunately, sometimes parents do not think about how the information they
share might be interpreted by others, especially in the case of sharing embarrassing
stories or inappropriate photos and, what is more, they never know where these
contents might end up someday. As Richard Follett argues, something posted online
now may not be appropriate in the future : “Not only might these images be used
to embarrass them in their delicate teenage years, they could also be accessed by
potential employers or university admissions departments” (Daily Mail, 8.02.2014).
In Poland, there are currently nearly 12.5 million Facebook users, with the larg-
est age group being 19 – 25-year-olds (27%), followed by 26 – 33-year-olds (23%)
(Fanpage Trends, 11.2015). Given that over ahalf of active Facebook users are
in prime childbearing years, it is likely that aconsiderable portion of users are
undergoing the transition to parenthood or have already been parents.
Data collection was conducted from September to December, 2015 among
Polish Facebook users. e main goal of the research was to learn about parents’
habits with regard to their children on Facebook, especially how much and what
kind of information about the children they share. erefore, this study was guided
by two main research questions:
228 Anna Brosch
1. What types of information concerning children are shared by parents?
2. What are the likely causes of these digital practices?
e research was carried out by using social media ethnography, which is one of
the online research methods, such as virtual ethnography (Hine, 2008), netnography
(Kozinets, 2010) or digital ethnography (Murthy, 2011), which have evolved from
classical ethnography. In general, all these online ethnographic methods focus on
“conducting and constructing an ethnography using the virtual, online environment
as the site of the research” (Evans, 2010, p. 11). Accordingly, the research ﬁeld of
social media ethnography involves the digital platforms transited by users, as for
example Facebook. From this perspective, the concept of virtual communities
becomes the central point for social media ethnography through studying users’
strategies of self-presentation and online social identity and therefore creating their
own role within aconﬁned community. us, this method allows for exploring the
various types of users’ online practice and behaviour on social media, which consti-
tute the natural ecosystem for their daily interactions. According to Helen Morton
(2001, p. 6), there are two possible ways of conducting research online – involved or
distanced. Involved research includes, inter alia, interviewing respondents via chat
rooms, e-mails and other synchronous ways of computer-mediated communication.
However, this study uses distanced research, which consists in the evaluation of
material sources such as texts or images and the observation of social interactions.
As the members of population were diﬃcult to locate, exponential non-dis-
criminative snowball recruiting was used. is non-random method allowed for
selecting the ﬁnal sample including 168 participants. Each of them had at least
one child under the age of 8 and had posted some photos of his/her own child
on aFacebook proﬁle. In addition to the photo analysis data, for each Facebook
account the following data was recorded: the date of creation of aFacebook proﬁle,
Facebook privacy settings, the number of friends, the total number of pictures, the
number of photos of children, and the content of posts and comments. Analysis of
this data allowed for working out whether it was possible to determine children’s
identity by using publicly available information.
One of the key research objectives was to examine the usage of Facebook among
parents, which was measured on two dimensions: how long the participants had
had their Facebook account and how many people were listed as “friends” in their
229When the Child is Born into the Internet
e research has shown that the growth of Facebook usage among Polish
parents began accelerating in 2010. Most of the surveyed Facebook proﬁles were
created between 2010 and 2012 (73%) and the median year of joining the Face
book community was 2012. It means that the large majority of the parents have
been active Facebook users for several years.
In the proﬁles studied on Facebook, the number of friends ranged from 17 to
1537, with an average of 388.9 friends per account. e majority of the parents
(71.4%) had 200 or more friends, with only 2.4% of the respondents having anum-
ber of friends in the range of 100 and fewer. It should be emphasized that only
7.7% of the parents changed Facebook privacy settings but mainly to hide their
friend lists. Taking into account that parents in general do not use privacy settings
to limit their audience, it indicates that they share their photos and comments with
alarge number of people.
In order to determine the level of sharenting, two main data sets were estab-
lished. Firstly, the posted photos were analyzed, including the number and type
of pictures. Secondly, commentaries about the photos on Facebook proﬁles were
studied. is allowed for determining the amount and kind of available infor-
mation about the children and ﬁnally to identify particular stories that were
communicated. Photobased stories were categorized according to the dates they
were taken, background of the pictures and also the text description which can be
seen in the sequence of stories.
e total number of the posted pictures by the parents is 25,727, including
19,431 (75.5%) photos containing achild between zero and eight years old, for
an average of 116 baby photos per account (range from 7 to 936). Every third
parent shared fewer than 50 photos of their child, but nearly 40% of the parents
posted over 100 photos of their child. What is more, the parents also willingly
shared private information about their child. Of these 168 accounts, 90.5% had
posted or received acomment mentioning the child’s ﬁrst name, and 83.9% had
also revealed the child’s date of birth. Many parents (23.2%) made this information
available by reporting their child’s birthday party in the public photo albums. In
addition, 32.7% of them uploaded their baby video and other documents relating
to the child, such as abirth certiﬁcate, kindergarten diploma or the child’s art.
Table 1. Information concerning children posted on Facebook proﬁles by parents
Name Age Date of birth Films Other documents
N152 141 52 55 12
%90.5 83.9 30.9 32.7 7.1
230 Anna Brosch
e research has shown that all of the participants regularly post digital con
tent on Facebook. Posts containing the child’s name and date of birth are most
common among the parents in the ﬁrst month aer the child’s birth by recording
almost every moment of her/his life (48.2%), sharing photos taken in the hospital
(4.8%) or simply posting this information on the parent’s proﬁle or timeline. In
some cases, the parents created adigital footprint for their unborn child by posting
asonogram image (10.7%) or sharing photos of the expectant mother (8.3%).
Types of baby photos shared on Facebook
Similarly to other studies on photo sharing practices, the participants surveyed
in this study basically tend to post happy moments of their life. Analysis of the
posted photos of children allowed for deﬁning ﬁve photo categories as shown in
Table 2. Types of baby photos
Daily life Outings Special
ing Professional To t al
N 8736 5629 4209 710 147 19431
%45.0 29.0 21.7 3.7 0.8 100
e participants shared avariety of stories by posting photos of their children.
e three top categories are Daily life, Outings and Special events (95.6%). Daily
life pictures relate to spontaneous moments of achild’s life, e.g. playing with toys,
sleeping or meal-time oen with other family members. Many pictures in this cat-
egory also focus on the baby’s face and body movements. Outings include photos
which were taken outside or during holiday. Examples of Special events include
baptism, Christmas Day, the ﬁrst day at kindergarten, birthday party and other
celebrations. Arelatively small group comprises pictures taken by professional
photographers – only 0.8%. However, embarrassing photos should be paid more
attention to. is is all the more signiﬁcant because 113 (67.3%) parents shared at
least one photo of their child that may be considered as inappropriate. erefore,
among the embarrassing photos four subcategories have been identiﬁed. e
overall results are presented in Figure 1.
e most popular type of embarrassing pictures of children shows them nude
or semi-nude. However, of these 113 accounts, 77.9% of the parents posted, in
231When the Child is Born into the Internet
fact, 411 photos of this kind. Admittedly, they were usually taken during bath
or on the beach and basically concern children under 3 years of age, but even
then they should not be exposed to public viewing. Consequently, the child might
be at great risk if these photos fall into the wrong hands, such as those of child
pornographers. Other photos of children that the parents willingly shared can
be described as funny photos. Every second parent shared photos of their child
that seemed to be amusing. But in most cases, these pictures showed children in
disturbing situations, e.g. sitting on apotty, crying, sleeping in astrange position
or pulling faces. e last type are photos of grimy children, which were taken
usually aer meals. us, the participants posted pictures of their children with
porridge, chocolate, and other food on their faces. ese photos were oen widely
commented on, but always in an inappropriate manner.
In view of the above, sharenting remains aworrying problem. Firstly, parents
tend to spread on Facebook the information about their children that might
include things like the date of birth, the child’s full name, or post photographs
and contents which might embarrass the children in the future. Secondly, parents
never know who might use this information for purposes other than intended.
ereby, they make their own children apotential target of child predators.
The likely causes of sharenting
Virtual communities, such as Facebook, are usually strongly inﬂuenced by the
number of users they have and can provide sociability, information, asense of
belonging, social identity and support of non-hierarchical communication (Well-
Figure 1. Types of embarrassing photos of children
Total number of photos
The number of parents sharing photos
232 Anna Brosch
man et al., 2002). Furthermore, it allows individuals to express their identities and
to create and maintain social relations online. erefore, parents may feel validated
by the numerous likes and comments they receive on their baby photos, even if
they come from users they have weak ties with. What is more, the popularity of
Facebook has grown steadily in Poland since 2010 and hence it has the relatively
long history of using. Controlling the length of Facebook usage is also important,
because many-year users might be more likely to succumb to the norms established
among Facebook users. Statistical analyses are therefore presented only for two
H1. e number of Facebook Friends is positively correlated with the number
of photos of children shared by parents on Facebook.
H2. e length of Facebook usage is positively correlated with the number of
photos of children shared by parents on Facebook.
Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted to test the hypotheses and
investigate the impact of the number of Facebook friends and the length of Face-
book usage on the number of photos of children shared by parents (Table 3).
Table 3. Results of hierarchical regression analyses
b t pβ
e number of Facebook friends 0.12 2.68 0.008 0.21
e length of Facebook usage -0.44 -0.06 0.95 -0.004
e analysis shows that the number of Facebook friends signiﬁcantly aﬀects
sharing information about children on Facebook, as expected (b = 0.12, t = 2.68,
p < 0.01). us, hypothesis H1 is conﬁrmed. In other words, the number of online
friends moderated parents’ online activity and therefore was asigniﬁcant predictor
of sharenting. However, the interaction between the length of Facebook usage
and the number of photos of children shared by parents on Facebook was not
signiﬁcant (b = -0.44, t = -0.06, p = 0.95).
e research has shown that Facebook provides another form of social behavior,
closely related to voyeurism, and occurs due to the social control and the need for
monitoring other users. It demands anew type of reﬂexivity about the creation
233When the Child is Born into the Internet
of virtual identities and the management of personal information, resulting in
increased transparency. erefore, today’s parenting is becoming adigitally shared
Undoubtedly, sharentingcan satisfy parents’ need for self-realization and social
approval. Moreover, the early period of parenthood might cause social isolation
and the digital era gives apossibility to make this time morecomfortable. ere-
fore, they are leaving scores of digital footprints online, which tell stories of their
children’s private lives. In many cases parents excessively share intimate details of
their children and then this practice reaches astage where sharenting is associated
with oversharenting, e.g. by posting 100 of baby pictures or even more.
On the other hand, sharenting might be aform of social comparison. It was
indicated by the positive correlation between the number of Facebook Friends
and the number of photos of children shared by parents on Facebook. Generally
speaking, the number of friends determines the number of shared photos. Moreo-
ver, by sharenting parents declare that they are able to fulﬁl the parental tasks and
Facebook seems to be the modern equivalent of sending aletter with asnapshot
enclosed. In this way, parents share their happiness about their parenthood with
their friends. Another possible reason for these ﬁndings is that Facebook provides
parents with apossibility to compare themselves with others on abroad range of
dimensions, such as social status and life experiences.
However, problems arise when parents share pictures of moments that might
embarrass their child now and in the future. According to these ﬁndings, it is
rather common practice among Polish parents, who post inappropriate photos of
their children, especially naked and semi-naked or showing them in an unfavora-
On the subject of sharing photos of children, the research has also shown that
many of them compromise children’s privacy and expose them to public viewing
without their consent. us, children have digital images already created by their
parents before they themselves are ready to use Facebook. It is aserious problem,
bearing in mind that actions today shape children’s online experience tomorrow.
Apart from present security risks and permanence of online contest, it may cause
other consequences in the future. Due to sharenting, children grow up with an
entirely diﬀerent concept of privacy. us, it might seem to be normal to them
that everything is in the public domain. In this way, the idea of privacy is quickly
234 Anna Brosch
e age of social media has given rise to anew hobby among Polish parents –
sharenting. e debate on its morality has been raging since the term was coined
and is still open. Although it can be argued that parents have the right to do so,
the privacy of the children involved should be taken into account. By exposing
children on Facebook or in other social media, parents are creating ageneration
of kids born under media glare and public attention. erefore, children grow
up with asense that aworld where what is private is public and sharing personal
details is common practice is normal. When they become parents, the young
generation might be even more open.
Otherwise, parents tend to share content about children which may put them
at risk, including things like the date of birth, the child’s full name, or posting any
photographs that may be embarrassing for children. It should be emphasised that
by posting content about children, parents create their digital footprint, which
could have unforeseen consequences now and in years to come. All the more,
because nobody knows how this information will be used to shape children’s
online experience, like social development and school or job prospects. Eric
Schmidt predicts that every young person one day will be allowed to change their
name in order to disown embarrassing digital past (Holman & Jenkins, 2010).
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