Etiquette (2)

This week’s problem is a really difficult one. I wish I had a better answer or could help more. What happens when you have left your abusive spouse, who does not know where you live, and you have a restraining order – then the school play is posted on YouTube and your child is in it?

We forget, sometimes, in the rush to put our entire lives online, that there are some people who have very good reason not to be quite as open.

Thanks for the questions, and keep them coming!

smetiquette - restraining order


Dear Amy:

A friend of mine has an issue she shared privately with a small group of us: she found a video on YouTube of a school play from last year. One of the other parents had posted it. Her child was visible in the video many times. This friend has an order of protection against her ex, and all her records are sealed so he cannot find out where she and the children are.

While it’s unlikely he would randomly stumble upon this video of all videos while messing around on YouTube, there is still a chance he could if he had some vague notion of where she might be. If someone they both knew saw it and told him, he’d now know what school the children go to, and it wouldn’t be too hard to track them down from there.

Is it even legal to do this? Does she have any recourse? She’s not mad at the parent – I mean, she knows it was done because this parent was proud of his children, and rightfully so. But how do we balance what we want to share with everyone with the rights of others in a video?

Sincerely, Fearful Mom’s Friend

For my readers – I changed minor details here to further protect those involved, though the main points – the order of protection, sealed records and the video on YouTube – are 100% true.

This is a really rough topic. Recourse is extremely limited without sharing the reason why with the other parent, who still might not be willing to take the video down. And then things will get really rough. But there is one route that this friend might be able to take.

Most schools ask all parents at the beginning of the year to sign forms regarding publicity around their children. Our school district allows us to say what level we’d be comfortable with – whether or not photos or video can be taken of our children, if they can be identified in those images, and if those images can be shared with the media or put on the school’s website. We can designate the level we’re comfortable with, saying photos of our children can be posted online, but not with their names, for example.

The school might be the best recourse in this. Perhaps there’s a guidance counselor or social worker this friend could approach to discuss the issue. The school abides by whatever the parents’ requests are. If someone cannot be shown in a video, they will shoot a video in that class in such a way that the child does not show up. They’ll make sure children are not in certain photos. I’ve seen teachers be very specific with photographers and others about certain children who could not be photographed.

These rules don’t apply to parents, however, and can’t be told they need to take it down. But a guidance counselor or social worker might be able to approach the parent who posted the video and explain the situation without mentioning which student is involved. She or her could explain why the school has the policies it does, and perhaps get the parent to password-protect the video, even. The parent probably posted it more for family and friends than anything else.

If the video is password-protected, those family and friends would still be able to view it. No one is asking this parent to destroy the video. It’s very possible that upon learning of the situation that this parent might even take the video down.

This issue, however, brings up something I’ve mentioned many times before. In fact, my very first #SMEtiquette post ever was related to this topic.

Don’t post photos (or videos) of other people’s children without asking. You don’t know everyone’s story. You don’t know if the parents just don’t want photos of their children online. Maybe they’re in a situation like Fearful Mom and have fled an abusive husband. Put yourself in other parents’ shoes. What if you didn’t want photos of your child online?

It’s terrific we can share what we and our families are doing so easily with others, particularly with family and friends. But that also doesn’t mean we have to share it with strangers all the time.

So if you find you’ve worn the shoes of the parent who posted the video – go back and think about it. Is it really important that the video is online? Maybe you can password-protect it and give the password to friends and family who still want it. Have you posted photos of your children that include others in it? Can you take those photos down and fuzz out other people’s children?

Think before you post. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And remember that while you have the right to post about your children, you don’t really have the moral right to post things of or about other people’s children.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.


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