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‘Sharenting’ on Chinese Social Media: When Parents Are Posting Too Many Baby Pics on WeChat

‘Shaiwa’ is the Chinese term for ‘Sharenting’ – when does sharing baby pictures on social media become too much?

Manya Koetse

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It’s called ‘Sharenting’ in English, it’s called ‘Shàiwá’ in Mandarin Chinese, and it’s all about parents sharing (too) many photos of their offspring on social media.

To what extent is it okay to post photos of your baby or children on social media, and when does it become too much? These questions are at the heart of a discussion that has been ongoing on Chinese social media recently, with the hashtag “Should You Be Sharenting on Moments?” (#朋友圈该不该晒娃#) receiving 140 million views on Weibo.

‘Moments’ is WeChat’s social-networking function, that allows users to share photos on their own feed that is visible to their friends, family, and other Wechat contacts.

‘Sharenting’ is a word that was coined to describe the overuse of social media by parents to share content based on their children. Around 2013/2014, the word came to be used more frequently in English-language mainstream media. In Chinese, the term for this phenomenon is ‘shài wá‘ (晒娃), which combines the characters for ‘exposing’ and ‘babies.’

Recently, more articles have popped up in Chinese media that take a critical stance towards parents sharing too much about their children on social media, with some WeChat Moments feeds consisting entirely of photos of children.

 

Sharenting Concerns

 

In English-language media and academic circles, the phenomenon of ‘sharenting’ has been a topic of discussion for years. In 2017, Blum-Ross and Livingstone published a study about the phenomenon, highlighting the concerns over it.

Some of these concerns are that ‘sharenting’ might infringe on children’s right to privacy, that it can be exploitative, is possibly exposing children to pedophiles, and might have consequences in terms of data-mining and facial recognition (110).

For parents, the reasons to share photos of their children online are multifold. It could just be to chronicle their lives and share with friends and relatives, but it could also be because they are part of (online) communities where sharing these photos is part of the shared lifestyle and identity (Blum-Ross & Livingstone 2017, 113).

For some, it is a way to express their creativity and this might also lead to some parents gaining financial benefits from doing so, if they are, for example, bloggers incorporating advertisements or sponsored content on their channels.

Recently, the topic became much discussed in the US after actress Gwyneth Paltrow posted a picture on Instagram in late March of her and her 14-year-old daughter Apple Martin skiing. Apple then responded in the comments sections, saying: “Mom, we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent.” The incident sparked discussions on children’s privacy on social media.

 

Whose Choice Is It?

 

In China, there is not just a word for ‘sharenting,’ there is even a word to describe parents who ‘sharent’ like crazy: Shàiwá Kuángmó (晒娃狂魔), meaning something like ‘Sharenting Crazy Devils.’

The phenomenon of sharenting was discussed in Chinese media as early as 2012, when it was mostly the safety issue of ‘sharenting’ that was highlighted: with parents posting photos of their children, along with a lot of personal information, they might unknowingly expose their children to child traffickers, who will easily find out through social media where a child goes to school, and when their parents take them to the park to play.

Recently, discussions on sharenting in China have mainly focused on WeChat as a platform where parents not just post photos of their children, but also post about their school results, their class rankings, and other detailed information. Especially during holidays, WeChat starts flooding with photos of children.

Image via Sina.com

Chinese educational expert Tang Yinghong (唐映红) commented on the issue in a news report by Pear Video, saying that sharenting is a sign of parents missing a certain sense of meaning in their own lives, and letting their children make up for this. Regularly posting about their children’s lives and activities allegedly gives them a certain value, status, and identity.

That they are infringing on the privacy of their children by doing so, Tang argues, is something that a lot of Chinese parents do not even consider. Only if the children agree with their parents sharing their photos, he says, it is okay to do so.

But the majority of commenters do not agree with Tang’s views at all. “So what else are we supposed to post in our ‘Moments’? If we post about our kids, it’s sharenting. If we post about our travels, it’s flaunting wealth. If we post selfies, it’s vanity. We should be free to post what we want in our Moments.”

“Showing off our kids is our own choice, if you don’t want to see it, just block it,” others say.

“He’s not right in what he says. I regularly post my child’s picture. My career is going well and I am happy. The goal of me posting these photos is to keep my WeChat Moments feed alive, and I use it as some sort of photo album,” another Weibo user says.

Some voices do agree with Tang, saying: “First ask your children for permission, they also have their right to privacy.”

 

Kids’ Rights to Privacy

 

But what if the children are too young to give permission? And from what age are they able to really give their consent? The idea of children’s ‘right to privacy’ is a fairly new one in Chinese debates on sharenting. In other countries, these discussions started years ago.

In the Netherlands, sociologists Martje van Ankeren and Katusha Sol argued in a 2011 newspaper article that parents posting photos of their babies and young children on social media are actually infringing on the privacy of their kids, disregarding what sharing the lives of their offspring online might mean for them in the future, just for scoring a few ‘likes’ on Facebook.

The online presence of children often starts from the day they are born now, building throughout their whole childhood. A 2017 UK news article suggested that the average parent shares almost 1,500 images of their child online before their fifth birthday. The baby’s first steps, medical issues, ‘funny’ photos and videos of a child with food smeared all over its face – it’s all out there. But what happens to all these online records?

Van Ankeren and Sol argue that the social media presence of children might affect them in the future. What if they are applying for their dream job, but their potential future employee finds out through online research that they had serious health issues as a child? And how do young adults feel about their new friends and acquaintances being able to view all those embarrassing photos of them as a child that their parents ‘tagged’ them in from before they could even remember?

“Everyone should have the right to choose what kind of information they want to share, and with whom. If your parents already did that for you, you lost your freedom of choice before you were even able to consider it,” Van Ankeren and Sol write.

The case of France made headlines last year, as its privacy laws make it possible for grown-up children to sue their parents for posting photos of them on social networks without their consent, which could potentially result in hefty fines or imprisonment.

In China, the debate on kids’ rights to privacy is not yet gaining much attention within the ‘sharenting’ discussions. Some people, however, do speak out about the issue on social media.

“I understand you want to share pictures of your child on ‘Moments’,” one Weibo user (@寒月之瞳) writes: “However, why do you insist on [also] sharing nude photos of your child? Small kids are also people, they have a right to privacy. The people on your ‘Moments’ are not all people you know very well. Do you really think it’s a good idea to share these photos?”

An article in the Chinese Baby Sina outlet writes: “Parents have to protect the privacy of their kids, before posting a photo of them on the internet, think about how it might influence them.”

For most commenters on Chinese social media, however, posting pictures of their children online is just an innocent pastime: “I post on WeChat Moments every day. If it’s not photos of my child, I post about the dinner I cooked or the parties I attend. WeChat Moments is about sharing your life, and in my life, my child is what matters most. It’s only natural that most of my photos are of my child.”

“People shouldn’t meddle in other’s people’s business. Whether or not I want to post my child’s photos is up to me.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Blum-Ross, Alicia and Sonia Livingstone. 2017. “”Sharenting,” Parent Blogging, and the Boundaries of the Digital Self.” Popular Communication 15 (2): 110-125.

Van Ankeren, Martje and Katusha Sol. 2011. “Willempje wil geen Facebookpagina.” Nov 2, NRC: 12.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

“Goodbye, Health Code”: Chinese Netizens Say Farewell to the Green Horse

“For three years, I was able to guard my green horse,” some said after many places in China have now stopped checking Health Code apps.

Manya Koetse

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China’s Health Code apps and the green QR code have been a crucial part of China’s Covid strategy for nearly three years. Today, many Chinese bid farewell to the Health Code app and their lucky ‘Green Horse.’

Since 2020, China’s Health Code apps have become utterly ingrained in everyday life as a pivotal tool in the country’s ongoing fight against Covid-19. The Health Code system (there are at least 31 different regional health code applications across China) uses different sources of information, from self-reported health status to travel history and Covid test results, to determine whether or not a person gets a Green QR Code, a Yellow one, or a Red one.

Health Code scans are required when entering communities, malls, supermarkets, commercial buildings, and are basically key to moving around the city.

The Green color means you’re safe (low-risk) and have free movement, the Yellow code (mid-risk) requires self-isolation and the Red color code is the most feared one: it means you either tested positive or are at high risk of infection. Clinging on to one’s green code was also referred to as ‘Guarding the Green Horse’ (read all about this in our article on Health Codes).

‘Health Code’ in Chinese is jiànkāngmǎ 健康吗. ‘Green Horse’ in Chinese is lǜmǎ 绿马 , which sounds exactly the same as the word for ‘green code’ (绿码). In a social media environment where homophones and online puns are popular and ubiquitous, it did not take long for the ‘green code’ to turn into the ‘green horse.’

But a lot is changing when it comes to China’s fight against Covid. Following an unstoppable Omicron outbreak across China, earlier optimization of Covid measures in November, major Covid outbreaks and unrest at Foxconn in Zhengzhou, and protests in various Chinese cities, and a prior easing of Covid measures in various cities, Chinese central authorities announced far-reaching changes to the country’s dynamic Zero Covid policy on Wednesday.

These changes also include a stop to Health Code checks when traveling, and an end to the requirement of negative nucleic acid tests for many places (unless it is about special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, medical institutions, etc.)

On Thursday, December 6, Chinese social media users started saying goodbye to the Health Code system (#告别健康码#), posting photos and videos of QR posters and travel code information being taken down at stations.

Saying goodbye to health code is top trending on Weibo.

The hashtag “Saying Goodbye to Health Code” became a top trending hashtag on Weibo, and by 22:00 local time, had already received over 660 million clicks on the platform.

The Zhengzhou subway station is among the places that have already removed their Health Code posters (#郑州地铁撤下健康码海报#).

In the Guangzhou subway, posters were already removed on Wednesday.

Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者网) also published various photos of station staff taking down QR code posters, using the hashtag “Many Stations Removing Health Code Posters” (#多地车站撤下健康码海报#).

“I didn’t need to scan the Health Code when entering university today. Bye bye, Health Code!” one netizen said, with another Sichuan-based blogger also writing: “The sport stadium, the mall, I didn’t need to scan anything today.”

“I’ve been waiting for this for so long, and it still came unexpectedly. From now on, we will need to protect ourselves,” one comment said. “This just feels amazing,” one Guangdong blogger wrote.

This idea of the government protecting people for three years, and that it is now up to the Chinese people to protect themselves, is a recurring one that you can see all over social media. Many people feel that zero Covid measures such as mass testing, local lockdowns, centralized quarantines, Health Code systems, 48-hour negative nucleic acid tests requirements, etc. were all government measures that were protecting the people.

Without this layer of protection, many say that individuals should now take responsibility for their own health.

But there are also those who criticize this line of thinking:

I particularly dislike that talk of ‘the nation has protected you for three years, you can’t count on them any more and will have to rely on yourself now,’ the people who say this are either stupid or spoiled. What is the nation? The nation is the people, the people are the nation, the three-year-long fight against the epidemic is one in which the masses sacrificed their time, space, money, and even their freedom. Every person paid their share of obligations. What is your talk of ‘they won’t look after us, it’s up to you now’? The best fight against the epidemic is one with an objective and scientific approach. Not a single country in this world really ‘laid flat’ [to be completely passive in light of epidemic]; every country has actively explored and sought for better ways to live with the virus. This is a people’s war. And in war, you’ll always have casualties. What we need to do is to balance between survival and development, to minimize the damage as much as possible.”

“There’s no use in saying goodbye to it,” one netizen said: “The most crucial time will be when the virus is gone.”

There are also those who expect the coming time is going to be strange: “I think most people will have a moment after this that they’ll take out their QR code for scanning whenever they enter a public place. After all, this wasn’t just a few days, it’s a habit we learned for three years.”

Some people are complaining that they are not seeing any differences yet in their area or city, from Changsha to Shenzhen, and that they are eagerly waiting for changes to be implemented.

Meanwhile, green horse images are circulating on Weibo, where many bid farewell to the mystical creature. “For three years, I was able to guard my green horse,” one person wrote: “Goodbye, green horse.”

“Goodbye and I hope never to see you again,” another Weibo user replied.

Read more about China’s Health Codes here. To read more about ‘Zero Covid’ ending, read here.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China and Covid19

Announced Changes in Nucleic Acid Testing and Further Easing of Covid Measures Across China

Bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate.

Manya Koetse

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On Monday, directly after that noteworthy unrest-filled weekend, the hashtag “Multiple Locations Announce Nucleic Acid Testing Changes” (#多地核酸检测通知发生变化#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 660 million clicks by Monday evening.

Immediately following demonstrations in Beijing and a second night of protests in Shanghai and elsewhere, various Chinese media reported how different areas across the country are introducing changes to their current Covid19 testing measures.

On Wednesday, November 30, China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan made remarks at a meeting on epidemic prevention, underlining the importance of “constantly optimizing” China’s Covid-19 response and talking about a “new stage and mission” – without ever mentioning “zero Covid.”

This is what we know about easing Covid measures thus far:

▶ Strict lockdowns have been lifted in Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chongqing.

▶ On November 28, Guangzhou announced that people who do not actively participate in social life will no longer need to participate in continuous nucleic acid screening. This includes elderly people who stay indoors for long periods of time, students who take online classes, and those who work from home. The change will apply to residents in seven districts, including Haizhu, Panyu, Tianhe, and Baiyun (#广州7区无社会面活动者可不参加全员核酸#).

▶ Guangzhou, according to Reuters, also scrapped a rule that only people with a negative COVID test can buy fever medication over the counter.

Harbin will follow the example of Guangzhou, and will also allow people who are mostly based at home to skip nucleic acid test screenings.

▶ Same goes for Shenyang, and Taiyuan.

▶ In Chongqing, various districts have done widespread Covid testing campaigns, but the local authorities announced that those communities that have not had a positive Covid case over the past five days do not need to participate in nucleic acid screening anymore. This means an end to district-wide testing.

▶ On November 30, Beijing also announced that it will start exempting some people from frequent Covid testing, including those elderly residents who are bound to home and other people who do not go out and have social interactions. This also includes younger students who are following classes online.

▶ Starting from December 5, bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate (announced on December 2nd).

▶ Although not officially announced, there have been various social media posts and reports about Covid-positive people in Beijing being allowed to quarantine at home if they meet conditions.

Chengdu Metro announced on December 2nd that it will no longer check passengers’ nucleic acid test reports. Passengers still need to scan their travel code and those with a green code can enter. Other public places will reportedly also start to accept the ‘green code’ only without a time limit on nucleic acid testing.

Tianjin metro announced that the 72-hour nucleic acid certificate check will be also be canceled for passengers on the Tianjin metro lines. As in other places, people will still need to wear proper face masks and undergo temperature checks.

▶ In Hangzhou, except for at special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, primary and secondary schools, people’s nucleic acid tests will no longer be checked in public transportation and other public places. They will also stop checking people’s Venue Codes (场所码).

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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