Does the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 protect the identity of children who abuse animals?

I got the idea for this article when PoC owner Michael Broad messaged me after I sent him the link to a story involving a young boy who was showing off kill after shooting a cat. I told him it would be a good one to report on, but be sure not to show the boys face since he’s definitely underage.

Photo altered for privacy
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Michael messaged me back and ask why he should hide the identity when Facebook did not. I told him it’s a ‘thing’ here in the United States and people are sue-happy. Most states consider a person is underage until they reach a certain milestone. For criminal issues, it’s usually 18 unless they’ve committed a murder and the person has been charged as an adult.

Everyone on Facebook may know who the person is and it would be good to be able to show the face of a young abuser. Still, the lack of privacy would likely create serious issues such as being confronted by an attorney representing the family.

According to information in Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) is a United States federal law, located at 15 U.S.C. §§ 65016506 (Pub.L. 105–277, 112 Stat. 2681-728, enacted October 21, 1998).

“If a company negligently or purposefully discloses a child’s personal information in a public arena, parents call on the harm to be remedied.”

COPPA covers children under 13 years old, so it’s a bit more lenient with a social media sharing of a minor, his information and/or his photograph. The UK has a similar rule for 13 years of age and younger that can be found here. The big question is does COPPA cover a child shown or written about in a negative manner in an online website.

In September 2011, the FTC announced proposed revisions to the COPPA rules to expand the definition of what it meant to “collect” data from children. The proposed rules presented a data retention and deletion requirement.

The act applies to websites and online services operated for commercial purposes that are either directed towards children under 13 or have actual knowledge that children under 13 are providing information online. It takes into account the manner in which the information is being collected and the uses to which the information will be put.

Non-profits are for the most part exempt and the emphasis is put more on personal data than on photographs. From what I’ve read a few people have gotten into legal trouble for posting photographs of their own children where a friend of the child is also posted. This seems to be a case of grasping at straws for someone to make money via a lawsuit.

Then there are the cat haters who comment on different websites who don’t consider killing a cat as animal cruelty. They would likely praise the young man for ridding the world of another cat, which they consider vermin and an “invasive species.”

If anyone out there has any legal advice on this topic, please share with the rest of us. Personally, I’d consider it a safety precaution not to give out the name or address of a child on a website or on social media if that child has done something wrong.

Now for the discussion question. Should we share photos on social media, even those we didn’t take ourselves, showing the face of a pre-teen doing something we consider legally or morally wrong? I’ve been very cautious over anything shared involving any type of abuse but especially cases involving children who abuse and kill companion animals.

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5 thoughts on “Does the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 protect the identity of children who abuse animals?”

  1. I live in a country where such laws have resulted in a father being arrested (but not charged if I remember correctly) for taking photographs of his two year old daughter in a bubble bath. This was in the days of film (just) It happened in the UK. Someone working in the lab developing the pics made the report to the police. These were normal, innocent family album photographs. They were not illegal or perverse in any way.

    This was in the early days of new Child Protection and Data Protection laws bedding in, around the millenium.

    So the need for extreme caution publishing anything about children here, has been at the forefront of most writer’s minds for nearly 2 decades.

    In principal I think the ID of the animal abuser (however old they are) should be exposed, that includes pictures. But I am all too aware of the keen-ness of some individuals to be involved in anything where a child is involved, to be seen ‘protecting’ a child, no matter what the child has done. This protection can easily slip into acts of violence/menace against the publishers or those who support them. This is much more likely to happen if the media are visibly involved.

    These days some people have no limits on what they will do to get that 15 minutes of fame.

    In the UK I’d say that litigation could be the least of your worries

    • I was going to show his face but Elisa talked me out of it. I am sure I would have been okay. There is a bit of PCness around anonymising kids although I understand too that there are a lot pedophiles around. Also this boy may be below the age of criminality.

  2. When Children are Involved
    Think twice before uploading photos of children, even your own. Two states, Georgia and New Jersey, are working on laws that make it illegal for anyone other than a parent to photograph a minor.

    In addition, online sites must comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, which has rules regarding the posting of identifying information including a child’s school, home town or full name. Though this law does not apply to individuals, Facebook could remove photos that violate the rule at the request of a parent.

    I would blur the face of the child and save a copy in my files.

    • The trouble I have with posting pictures of children is that you enter a world of legal ramifications far removed from the cat world and animal law and it is very tricky. However Facebook is so big and out of control that their admin does not spot these images which is why this photo is unedited on their website. That said there are moral arguments for seeing who this boy is. He has probably done something illegal under state law where he lives and for all we know has shot someone’s pet.

      • The image should obviously be sent to a private email usually provided for reporting crimes where he lives. I believe neighbors and everyone local has a right to know what is happening on their doorstep. This is unacceptable behavior in 2018.


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