Legislators in France are considering a law which could see some parents prevented from sharing images of their children on social media.

The so-called 'Anti-Sharenting Bill' aims to protect the privacy rights of children, who cannot consent to their images being posted online.

The proposed law would target parents attempting to gain social media followers, or earn money, by posting excessive numbers of images of their children. Family court judges would be given the power to ban parents from sharing images of their child.

Bruno Studer, an MP for President Emmanuel Macron’s party, proposed the bill on the back of a 2015 Australian study that found up to 50 per cent of the photos on child sex abuse forums had originally been uploaded innocently by parents and family members.

As part of The Conversation from RTÉ's Upfront with Katie Hannon, we asked two people to join our WhatsApp group to debate the merits of such proposals.

Ann Marie O’Sullivan writes about health and parenting for the Irish Independent, Irish Examiner and The Echo. Ann Marie recently removed a decade’s worth of photographs of her own children from her social media accounts.

Ella Whelan is a freelance journalist, commentator, and author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and end to Feminism.

Ann Marie O’Sullivan: I believe that children have a right to privacy but I also think it's important to remember that young children can't give consent to what's being posted about them which is a huge issue and one we often don't consider.

Ella Whelan: The rights thing is interesting. I think we can all agree that children should be looked after, cared for etc. And that includes thinking about what they might like when they’re older. That’s why most of us don’t use our kids as cash cows like these odd influencers do, filming everything they do from using the potty to sleeping.

But rights are a serious thing, that citizens in a society exercise and fight for. Children can’t have freedom - as parents we make all their decisions for them because we know what’s best. So, when we get into talking about children’s rights or children’s consent, I think we’re in danger of blurring that boundary between adults and kids - which is ultimately what is so important for child safety, that the adult is in charge and confident.

My worry is that laws like these serve to undermine adult authority and confidence - parents these days are anxious about everything. Do you think there’s anything in that?

Ann Marie O’Sullivan: I definitely know what you mean but I don't think that parental authority should be unlimited.

For example, it's probably fine to drive without putting my child in the right car seat, most drivers are normal, careful people but it's not my right as a parent to decide to do that because there are laws there to safeguard children.

Also, the (proposed) French law doesn't go as far as stopping general parental authority on posting a few photos but it does give the child protection for when or if a parent takes it too far, like the TikTok trends of parents ridiculing their children for views. Surely, there needs to be some parameters on what people can do for content?

Ella Whelan: It depends how you think behaviour like this is changed. Is it through law or is it through changing social norms on a more informal basis between people?

What absolutely fascinates me is this new trend among groups of women to vlog literally every move of their daily (often boring) lives. I mean dish washing, nappy changing etc. And I say that as someone who is currently doing all those boring things day in day out with my five-month-old.

All this work is important, but why are we watching people do it voyeuristically? And what’s even more interesting is why these women want to do it. What aren’t they getting in terms of recognition and status from society that they are finding among strangers online.

I think all this sharenting is a phenomenon of a society that is more isolated and dissociated from one another. We should be getting our interaction and recognition from each other in normal places - together in families, at our local pubs, community centres, whatever.

Particularly post-Covid, all of that has gone. And instead, we seem to want people to almost cosplay their normal lives online.

I would go about trying to change that dynamic instead of seeking to just ban things that might be a problem.

Ann Marie O’Sullivan: I don't think legislation limits social change. If anything, its proposed introduction has got us debating things that otherwise go unsaid or unquestioned. When I recently deleted pictures of my children online, after posting photos of them for nearly a decade, people commented saying how did I not know that it wasn't a good idea to post photos of my kids and how did I not know role-playing* existed.

[*Editor’s note: Role playing is the practice of stealing pictures of children from other people’s social media accounts and using them to create new, fake identities online.]

Now maybe everyone does already know but my guess is that there are people out there, like me, who would prefer not to think of the darker side online. I always shared my life online.

I had kids, they were part of my life and I kept on sharing, forgetting or willfully not considering, that they are their own separate people who might not want their childhood documented publicly.

I think what legislation does, or hopes to do, is bring awareness and some limits to an otherwise limitless space.

And it doesn't have to be an either or, people can still evoke societal change, interpersonal change, spark debate.

I don't think talking about legislation means it's the end of all other means of change. If anything, it makes us reflect on the ethics of something that as a society we slotted into doing and maybe needs more thought.

Ella Whelan: Of course, children are their own separate people - and eventually they will become young adults capable of making their own separate decisions from us as parents. But until then, I do have authority over my son and I do make his decisions for him - including what I want to share about him online.

More broadly outside of this proposed law, I do think there is a dystopian side to our discussion about online harms. Dangers online - like child pornography - exist. But I don’t want to stop us sharing and enjoying each other's children for fear of stranger danger.

If anything, in this isolated climate post-Covid where everyone is a bit more suspicious of each other, I think being more open to each other is vital. The way I share my son online is the same as showing the family photo album to people who come over.

Most people use social media like this - they want to show off their kids because they’re proud of them. And I think as a society we should encourage that, and be interested in each other’s lives.

I suppose for me it comes down to this - who or what do you think should be responsible for social change, the government or the people? And I think meaningful change to social norms and the way we interact with each other never comes from legislation.

In fact, the state becoming more involved in people’s private lives and how they raise their children is damaging to the creation of those social norms, because it makes people feel more nervous about interacting with one another, in case they break the rules.

Ann Marie O’Sullivan: I understand why you'd want to share. As I said I did it myself for nearly a decade. I still do share photos of my kids with family and friends. I just do it privately and with their consent. Importantly, the proposed legislation isn't coming after people for occasional posting photos of their children.

Parents can and do weigh that up for themselves and use their judgement. The bill does look at excessive posting though. I've seen documentaries where children have said they don't want to be filmed but the parents make good money from vlogging and so either parent follows them with a camera a lot of the time. I think this legislation aims to tackle that kind of excess.

Currently child actors are more protected than children of influencers in their own home. Child actors have rules about breaks, where the money goes, the amount of time they work.

Children of influencers don't have any of those protections. I think the more prompts there are for us to keep talking about this and push for change the better.

Read last week's edition of The Conversation, where we asked if we should consider the introduction of congestion charges, here.