One is a blogger who kept an online diary of her baby twins; another, a mum who had shared the odd picture of her children on Facebook; and another, a dad who started an online support page for children with a medical condition. All three are the victims of the creepy trend of digital kidnapping.
They are among the growing number of parents to discover online thieves have stolen their children’s photographs to use for baby role play. The people re-post the photos to sites such as Facebook or Instagram, pretending the children – or in some cases, ultrasounds – are theirs.
Writer and mum of twins Becki Melchione was alerted to the trend by a commenter on her blog. She tells Brain, Child magazine she clicked on the link given by the commenter, which took her to a woman’s Facebook page – and straight to a photo of her daughters supposedly getting ready for a holiday.
“I stared at my photo of my daughters on her timeline. Who would do such a thing? Who was this woman? Why would she steal a photo of someone else’s children and post them as her own?” she says. Becki messaged the woman, demanding that she take the photos down – so the woman blocked her. It wasn’t until she enlisted an army of friends to report the images to Facebook that she eventually managed to have them removed.
Red Head Baby Mama blogger Lindsey Paris found out her 18-month-old son’s photo was being used by another woman – as her homepage picture, no less – after she clicked on the profile of a new fan on her blog’s Facebook page. “She was pretending that he was her own and commenting on when was he going to start teething. Her friends were saying that they loved his hair. She was treating him as her own and that was the most petrifying thing. I didn’t know people did this,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.
The woman turned out to be a 16-year-old girl who had “always wanted a red-headed son” and quickly removed the photo down after Lindsey contacted her. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she told Lindsey.
When Caleb Kaminer’s daughter was born with dysphagia, which makes swallowing nearly impossible, his family set up a Facebook site to seek answers, support and help for sufferers. As most pages dedicated to people or causes do, it included pictures of baby Tristan. But when a photo was taken and used for child role play, he too launched a crusade against Facebook. After garnering support from hundreds of friends, the post was removed.
“There is still an innocence to putting a child’s photo on the website and asking for prayers, and someone taking it, using it for their own creepy, weird fetishes and fantasies,” he tells NewsChannel 4.
While social media operators can delete posts, staying on top of them is proving difficult, especially as many of the baby role play – or #BabyRP – community members are anonymous.
According to Yahoo Parenting, BabyRP is mostly made up of teen and tween-aged girls. There are even fake adoption agency accounts that feature fabricated stories for each child’s photo – and commenters who compete to adopt the picture.
Privacy expert Bob Sullivan tells NBC Today: “Everything you put online is there forever, and it never feels that way when you click post or click send.” Psychiatrist Dr Gail Salts tells the program that not everyone who engages in role play is ill. “Some people are using to fulfil a wish – a wish that they had a child, or a wish that they were a child,” she says.
While the practice is still relatively rare in the scheme of things, it does show that parents need to be careful about sharing photos of their children. Take a look at our recent post on beefing up your Facebook security settings to make sure photos are as private as possible.
If you’re worried your photos may have been used elsewhere, a reverse image search on Google may give you peace of mind. Go to Google image search and upload your photo using the camera icon in the search bar – it will look for places the picture has been used
Facebook allows people to report privacy violations, including imposters, through its help centre. Instagram also has a reporting tool through its smartphone app or this form. For information on reporting tweets, go to Twitter’s support pages.
(Top image via Eduardo Merille, FlickR)