Exposing children in the press to protect them from online harm

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 24 September 2006

I spent the weekend in Edinburgh, and on my flight to London I was given a complimentary copy of the Scottish edition of the Mail on Sunday.

They had an interesting story about online privacy for children, under the headline "Anger as gay fathers post pictures of their children on dating site". As far as I can tell, it is one of those pieces that the Mail doesn't have the legal confidence to publish online as well as in print.

The story features Barrie Drewitt and Tony Barlow, a gay couple who have three children. They have apparently placed information about themselves on Gaydar, and it includes pictures of them with their children.

In one of the most astonishing quotes I have ever seen about the safety and privacy of children on the internet, Michelle Elliott, Director of Kidscape is quoted as saying:

These men are being very foolish. Whether you are gay, or heterosexual, you should not put children's pictures on the web. This is asking for trouble.

The children could be targeted as the children of wealthy or famous people. Then there are some disturbed people who could alter the images and use them in a very unpleasant way. They are placing their children at risk. This is a serious child protection issue.

So there you have it, parents and homosexuals, stop using Flickr and their like in case either perverts or homophobes are armed with Photoshop and start using your images against you.

You might wonder whether the Mail on Sunday was reporting the story out of genuine concern for the welfare of the children involved, or out of shreiking homophobia against rich men who have fathered children using a surrogate mother.

If you had any doubt, I must point out that by printing the names of the two dads and the three children, and indentifying the region where they live, the paper makes it pretty easy to find them via the internet.

And if digging around for that info is too much effort for you, the paper also helpfully prints a picture of the family.

Hmmm, I thought that was what they were saying was wrong?

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