Certain social media hashtags can make your children vulnerable to predators. Here's how to safely post about your children on Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms.

By Nicole Harris
Illustration by Sarina Finkelstein

Any social media user has probably come across hashtags on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or other platforms. Hashtags allow people to label their content with specific themes or categories, which makes it easier for others to find their posts. But while hashtags lead to a curated social media experience, they can actually put the safety of your children at risk. Read on to learn why hashtags can be dangerous, and find out which hashtags to avoid at all costs.

How Hashtags Work

Hashtags are user-generated labels attached to social media messages and photos. People usually choose hashtags based on specific themes or categories. For example, a photo of your living room could include hashtags like #interiordesign, #homedecor, #livingroominspiration, and #furniture. 

Social media sites allow people to search for whatever hashtags they want. For example, someone remodeling their house might browse #homedecor on Instagram and stumble across your living room photo.  Parents can also create hashtags for their kids (like #emilyann or #jacobryan) so family and friends can easily find portraits of them. Proper use of hashtags leads to increased engagement, a curated brand image, and more followers that share your interests. 

The Downside of Hashtags

It’s no doubt that hashtags are a powerful branding and marketing tool. But assuming your social media profile is “public” (accessible to anyone with an account), you can’t control who comes across your content. Theoretically, anyone who searches #interiordesign can find living room photo, whether it’s a 25-year-old receptionist from New York or a retired 70-year-old engineer from London. The same goes with photos of your children and family.

According to the Child Rescue Coalition, pedophiles often search for child-related hashtags on social media platforms. The pedophiles could easily discover your family portraits, kindergarten graduation pictures, birthday party snapshots, and other tagged images. Predators can download the photos to their phone and share them with friends. If you add your location to the posts, predators can also stalk your children, which jeopardizes their safety.

Trending Hashtags That Parents Should Avoid

The Child Rescue Coalition lists dozens of predator-attracting hashtags to avoid. You can find the inclusive round-up here. Many seem innocent on the surface, but they could attract the wrong type of audience to your page. Notable hashtags to avoid include: 

  • #bathtime  
  • #splishsplash
  • #kidsswimwear
  • #toddlerbikini
  • #toilettraining
  • #pottytraining
  • #nakedbaby
  • #nakedkidsarehappykids
  • #diaperfree
  • #naptime

How to Use Hashtags Safely

Parents don’t need to avoid hashtags altogether, but it’s important to stay vigilant. The Child Rescue Coalition says that 90% of children have a social media presence before their 2nd birthday, but 89% of parents haven’t checked their privacy settings within the last year. This might leave their Instagram, Facebook, and other social sites open to predators—which is especially scary since 85% of child predators go on to abuse children in real life.

According to the Child Rescue Coalition, parents should ask themselves the following questions before uploading an image: “Why am I sharing this? Would I want someone else to share an image like this of me? Would I want this image of my child viewed and downloaded by predators on the Dark Web? Is this something I want to be part of my child’s digital life?”

Here are other tips for safely using hashtags and social media:

  • Adjust privacy settings so only your followers can view your photos.
  • Ask others not to post photos of your child without your consent, says children's privacy lawyer Katie Goldstein.
  • Don’t tag your location. Goldstein says this might lead people (including predators) to your child.
  • If your children have their own accounts, teach them proper social media safety.
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