When do we share images of children?

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When – if ever – is it ethical to share images of children online for research purposes? We have found this a challenging question to answer. Our research is ever-increasingly online: we are carrying out research online, accelerated by the fall-out from COVID-19; we are working in research teams separated by geography and physical distance; and we know the power of online exchange and dissemination, whether that be by social media, websites or webinars. Sharing images online can be part of all these elements and the visual can be immensely powerful in communicating.

Further, we are committed to involving children meaningfully and ethically in research. Almost always, children are central research participants in our projects. Like others in the childhood studies’ field, we are also working with children in other ways: for example, in child advisory groups to guide the research, as co-researchers working with adults, and in child-led research. Children are thus not only research participants but also expert advisers and researchers. As these children are sharing expertise and generating knowledge, how can this be respected and shared in our increasingly online communications?

The default position in childhood research ethics, at least in our experience, is to protect the anonymity of children. Further, there are widespread concerns about children’s involvement online: from fears for child safety and child pornography, to fake news and manipulation, to the commodification of data and its visibility, replicability and longevity. While we know many children are indeed online, it is another question as to whether adult researchers should be further expanding this as part of research activities.

Such was the premise for the webinar ‘Children’s Images Online – Exploring ethical issues in participatory research projects’. The resulting conversation was respectful but provocative, with a range of challenging and different views posed by both presenters and discussants.

At one extreme, no children’s images should be used at all. Images of children have a history of generating sympathy and charity, they do not and perhaps cannot represent children holistically, and they portray children as objects of curiosity…

Continue reading now at https://childethics.com/blog/childrens-images-online/

Watch the original webinar with Covision, including colleagues from Edinburgh, Bethlehem and Brazil, from October 2021.