Digital Kidnapping: Is Your Child A Victim?

I mean I’ve seen enough Catfish episodes to know that there are a lot of insecure, sad people out there with too much time on their hands.

Life & Travel

I swore I would never be one of those parents who posted a million pictures of their kid’s different milestones on social media.

Before becoming a mom, I was never really annoyed by seeing friends document everything from their child’s first burp to a “fun” day of finger painting with poop (yes, I have seen this on my timeline). What worried me most is that while I may have no problem updating high school friends I hadn’t seen in years on my musings of the day, my kid might not want that same kind of exposure. I didn’t think it was fair to share someone’s life that couldn’t say “selfie” let alone give me consent to post it. But as soon as my daughter was born, I couldn’t imagine keeping her two-toothed grin and adorable fear of her Elmo bubble-blower to myself. Pretty soon, I was one of the parents beaming about the joys of motherhood for the ‘gram. I still keep some things private (my followers will not be double-tapping pics of baby’s first bath) but my daughter is a part of my life, and it’s impossible for my readers, friends and followers to see parts of my life I want to share without seeing my child as well.

As most new parents know, a metric ton of guilt accompanies every celebration of your child’s “first” as it becomes apparent they are growing up and slowly entering into a world where you won’t be able to protect them from everything. I recently had to tell my husband if he can’t handle our daughter bumping her head while learning to walk, he’ll be in therapy by the time she hits puberty. Unfortunately, just like in the real world, the Internet is full of folks who don’t always have good intentions or the best judgment.

I first heard of the term “digital kidnapping” as I was watching the TODAY show a few months ago while getting ready for work. What I learned was that it’s no longer enough to be leery of the creepy guy who hangs out at the playground and is a little too friendly with the kids. Apparently, there are people who are stealing your cute pics of your son’s first taste of bananas to fulfill their sick, twisted fantasies of motherhood.

I’m sure we are all aware by now that the internet is full of child predators and we have to be cautious about protecting what we post and think twice before uploading those first potty photos. I didn’t post a cute photo of my daughter at the beach the other day because her swimsuit was a little loose on top (I’m serious, folks. This is the world we live in). But I think what bothers me more is how out of touch with reality people are slowly becoming. People are participating in “adoption role plays” with stolen photos of children and inviting other users to join in and create different identities and virtual lives based off of pics of random kids. I was hesitant to search “#babyrp,” “#adoptionrp,” and “#kidrp” on Instagram, but I had to see if digital kidnapping was the real deal or just another headline for hits. To my disgust each hashtag return over 50,000 results and as I scrolled through pics of celebrity kids and random tattoos, I did see there were some picture of babies that I instantly knew didn’t belong to the user posting them. Some users were quite honest about the fact that the picture was stolen. Most of the pictures I clicked on seemed innocent enough as comments were limited to about 2 or 3 saying things like, “My niece and nephew are so cute!” But then I got to the baby talk in the forms of “Hewwo!” and “Otay!” and it hit me. There are people sitting around taking the time to repost strangers’ kids and creating fantasy families on-line. To me that’s a few too many blocks into Creepsville than I care to be.

After reading the story of Lindsey Paris, I decided to do some light investigation of my own out of fear that someone had created some weird on-line family from a picture of my own daughter. When a random user liked a picture of Paris’s son on her blog “Redheaded Baby Mama”, Paris did some digging of her own to discover the user had created a Facebook profile complete with pictures of Paris’s son…perpetrating him as her own. She revealed to Yahoo.com, “She was pretending that he was her own and commenting on when he was 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.”

Luckily, my own search came up empty, but the whole idea of digital kidnapping left my stomach in knots and had me seriously re-thinking my privacy settings.

I mean I’ve seen enough Catfish episodes to know that there are a lot of insecure, sad people out there with too much time on their hands. It’s one thing to create a double life with stolen photos of adults because you don’t think you’re pretty or popular enough, but making a fantasy life starring a stranger’s kids is just proof of a world with all kinds of blurred boundaries.

I’d like to think most people are using the power of social profiles for good, so I refuse to think of all the bad that could occur with my baby’s pictures every time I want to share a special moment. Unfortunately, my job as a parent just got a little harder and I definitely don’t share as much on my Instagram account as I do on Facebook, which has more rules and regulations about photo sharing. The trend of digital kidnapping does remind me of an important lesson that we used to teach our kids that we may need to remind ourselves: don’t talk to strangers. As geeked as we like to get when we see that Instagram notification that another “friend” or “follower” has liked our latest selfie, the truth is the Internet is chockfull of strangers hiding behind friendly profile pics. Everyone shouldn’t be invited to follow the special parts of your life, let alone be able to copy and paste it.

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