Digital kidnapping: Find out why people are stealing photos of your kids

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What if someone stole your child's photos and made a social media account pretending to be their mother? This is a disturbing trend called Digital Kidnapping.

As a parent, the importance of being careful with what you post on the internet cannot be stressed enough.

While many have good intentions when uploading their child’s photos onto Facebook or Instagram, what they fail to realize is that they may be putting their child at risk of digital kidnapping.

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Instagram users steal photos of babies and children and turn them into “fictional characters” via baby role play.

Digital kidnapping, also known as baby roleplaying, occurs when individuals steal photos of children from the parents’ social media accounts and pass them off as their own. The users come up with new names for the child and a storyline that includes the child’s likes, dislikes, and habits. There have also been accounts wherein users pretend to be the child and respond to comments using baby talk.

This was a disturbing scenario that blogger Lindsey Paris of Red Head Baby Mama found herself in back in 2012. While checking the Facebook fan page she had set up for her blog, she clicked on a name that had “liked” a photo of her son. She was horrified to find that the account had her son’s photo as a profile picture and that the user was pretending to be his mother. 

Though understandably angry, Lindsey sent the user a private message politely asking that the photo be taken down. Two days later, the user replied. It was revealed that she was a 16-year-old girl who had “always wanted a red-headed son.”

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While most role playing accounts seem harmless, others explicitly talk about abusing children.

According to an article on Fastcompany.com, “Most of the major role players are anonymous, so it’s not clear who they are or how to reach them. But those who do reveal themselves are almost always teenage girls. Oftentimes, tween and teen role players like these come from a broken home, where their parents are either divorced or the child has been abused,” says psychiatrist Gail Saltz.

It’s been 3 years since, yet baby roleplaying continues to trend on social media, and it seems to have taken a turn for the worse.

While there are exchanges that are relatively harmless, there are also accounts that cater to sexually-charged and violent role play. So much so that The DailyMail deemed them too disturbing to publish as they explicitly talked about physically and sexually abusing children.

Click “Continue reading” to know how you can protect your children from Digital Kidnapping. 

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According to Instagram, baby role play posts violate their terms. If a parent reports such content, Instagram works quickly to remove it.

How to protect your child against digital kidnapping

1. Adjust your privacy settings 

Popular social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have privacy settings that you can use. While you may have no qualms about sharing photos of yourself, it may be best to control who sees photos and albums that include your children via customized privacy settings. Also, make it a point to only add “friends” or to approve “followers” that you actually know.

2. Watermark your photos

Due to an increase in unauthorized use of uploaded images, watermarking has become a means for designers and other artists to protect their work from being stolen. This is a practice that parents can adopt when uploading public photos of their children as well.

Why? Because when a watermark is strategically placed, a child’s photo may be rendered useless by a baby role player, who usually targets photos that have a high-resolution and don’t obstruct the subject.

Some sites that allow parents to watermark their photos for free online are Picasa and Picmarkr.

3. Avoid uploading photos that reveal private information

Be mindful of uploading photos that reveal your child’s location, school and other personal information. For example, avoid uploading photos of your child in their school uniform as it allows individuals to deduce which school they go to. Or, avoid posting photos that show the area near your home, as people may use familiar landmarks to guess your address.

Understand that while most baby role players are seemingly harmless, there are the exceptional few who may want to take their role playing a notch higher and use whatever information they can gather from your photos to locate your child.

For more on digital kidnapping or baby roleplaying, watch this:

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