Early this month, a bunch of kids in Queensland, Australia, created a Facebook fan page called “Sneaky Hat”. The original page has since been taken down, but it has quickly been replaced with alternatives such as this one. If you thought Planking or HorseManing were weird, I have to warn you that clicking on a Sneaky Hat link while at work may be somewhat risky.
The new photo fad started with young men taking photographs of themselves naked except for a carefully placed hat covering their genitals. Of course, not to be outdone, young women adapted the fad to their own physique. Other than being yet another viral fad that has taken off on the internet, you may wonder why it is worth any mention at all.
I find it interesting because it reinforces the idea that we are increasingly beginning to feel that privacy is of little importance. For one thing, Facebook’s familiar tagging facility means that anybody who decides to take a “sneaky hat” pic is literally sharing it with as many friends as have access to that content. In fact, most posters are fairly proud of their pictures and openly share their identities online. I find that pretty weird. Personally I cringe whenever I’m tagged in a photo online, but maybe I’m a little odd that way. To be fair, one has to question whether these pictures are any worse than photographs of people in bikinis or speedos.
This week, Australian police announced that they were investigating the craze and have requested images and videos that were originally posted by the core group that started the fan page. With the original posters aged around 15 years old, the Australian media and cyber-safety advocates have been touting the fad as a “paedophile paradise”. Cyber safety expert Susan McLean, formerly of the Victoria Police cyber safety project, has stated “This is a form of child pornography and they need to realise that the law applies to teenagers just as much as anyone else. And aside from that, the people posting these photos better decide quick smart whether they want that picture around when they go for a job interview because it will be around forever.”
Clearly, people like Ms. McLean don’t see these pictures simply as kids sharing photos of themselves wearing revealing clothing. Indeed, child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg said that the trend showed Australia had been given an “epic fail” in cyber safety education. I find myself fairly torn on these sorts of issues. On one hand, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with these pictures at all. While vaguely amusing, I do not find any of these images to be even close to erotic. On the other hand, I have to admit that I think they are pretty foolish and probably aren’t pictures you’re going to be glad to see popping up online in ten years time.
Carr-Gregg goes on to say: “What it highlights for me is the lack of supervision and monitoring of so many young people using Facebook, and it also raises the question of whether or not 13 is an appropriate age for children to have access to Facebook”. I think that in some ways he is right. Kids do need a bit more supervision and certainly some guidance in terms of what constitutes truly stupid behaviour, but I don’t think that’s limited to Facebook or the internet in general.
On the whole, if you’re paranoid that paedophiles are scouring Facebook for pictures of your kids in anything short of a burqa, you should be panicking about the Sneaky Hat meme and all of the derivatives that are likely to come in the future. If you’re into a more moderate approach, take a few minutes to remind your kids that while doing something like this may be great fun at the time, it’s a bit like getting a tattoo and pretty much anybody from here to eternity might get to see it. In my opinion, photo fads are a little bit like digital graffiti, the down-side is that they usually come with your identity information attached, and it is this that is ultimately of any real concern.