What the Law Says about Humiliating Children on the Web

Posting information concerning your own son or daughter on Facebook or Instagram isn’t against any law, says Alexandre Plourde, an analyst and lawyer at Option Consommateurs: “A child, just like anyone, has a right to control their image, their reputation and their private life. The difference is that it’s the parents who control those rights. If a parent consents to posting something in the name of their own child, it’s not illegal.”

By Marie Bernier

What complicates matters is when the content posted could cause a child harm. Take the #NewTeacherChallenge, where a parent fakes a videoconference call with a child’s so-called future teacher. When the child comes over to meet the fake teacher, they’re shown a photo of an unknown face, perhaps one worthy of a terrible mug shot; or maybe the face of a severely disabled person. The child’s shock reactionto this form of cyberbullying is downloaded and humour material on the popular social media website TikTok.

These images are rarely flattering. Are we really helping our kids by posting videos of them grimacing at the sight of a disabled person?

“The Civil Code provides that any decision made on the child’s behalf be in the child’s interests,” Plourde points out. “Is a parent who defames or ridicules a child over the internet really acting in their best interests? The law is unclear on that.”

Anticipating the Backlash

Indeed, in 2017, jokes made in bad taste about a youth led to a Maryland Youtuber losing custody of his children, and being convicted of negligence. In one of his videos the man in his thirties had his nine-year-old son believing he’d been adopted by another family…  

  True, this is an extreme case. The vast majority of parents never willingly want to do their children any harm. But this story reminds us of one thing: over the web, intentions soon evaporate, but the images remain.

Psychologist Nadia Gagnier says: “You have to think that one day a child will be conscious of how others see them.”  Dr. Gagnier believes that internet content can have long term effects: “Employers google their potential employees.”

Nellie Brière is less concerned about this last point. She argues that the masses of information available on everyone create a normalizing effect: “You can’t compare today’s normal with 10 years ago.”

Okay with You, Junior?

Both our experts agree that parents should get a child’s approval before posting anything about them to the web. “Starting at age 7 or 8, you should ask for their accord,” Brière says.

Nadia Gagnier suggests that from time to time a parent should get together with their child and do a “spring cleaning” of the youth’s web profile. The aim is to make sure the youth agrees with what’s online about them.

Do you regret things you posted about your son or daughter? “No need to get dramatic or turn yourself in to the police!” says Dr. Gagnier. “Forget being a perfect parent! We all make mistakes. The important thing is to be able to show a child that you can act in a constructive manner. It’s a great opportunity to discuss the power and the risks of social media.”

In other words, think before you post.

  • If Quebec adopts Bill 64, it will become a North American pioneer in digital age rights. Under the proposed law, a victim may force a website or a social media site to delete content that causes the victim prejudice. Among the criteria for causing prejudice: that the person victimized is a minor. “This could give children some recourse if they can’t delete a parent’s posting,” says Alexandre Plourde.

First published in Reflet de Société magazine, vol. 29, no. 3, April 2021, pages 6 – 8

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