As a parent, it is your priority to look out for and protect your children. It’s a natural instinct. What if I told you that in some ways you are putting them in more danger than you can imagine?Have you ever heard of digital kidnapping? Prepare to have your world turned upside down.
Social media platforms are easily accessible nowadays. Almost everyone has an online profile. It’s a place to share your inner thoughts, opinions, personal and even intimate moments — a new engagement, new home, new pet, a new vacation, and especially a new baby.
New mothers love sharing pictures of their children online, but some vow to post minimal or no pictures of their children. I’m not a mother myself, but understand the need or desire to share every moment of your precious baby with your friends and family. Their height, their weight, their likes or dislikes. Your child is your biggest accomplishment and you should be proud that child is all your own — but are they?
Look up hashtags like #proudmommy or #momspam ( I mean even I am guilty of using the #proudaunt tag) you will find thousands of happy kids or babies, sharing happy moments with the world. This is where the story get dark, now look up hashtags like #babyrp #childrp or #orphanrp. The ‘rp’ stands for role play. Your child’s picture has been taken by a complete stranger. Your child had a new name, a new life story, and a new mommy or daddy. Your child has been digitally kidnapped.
Before last night I never even heard of the term or trend, until I saw a Facebook article shared by an old university classmate. Her caption was simple, ‘this is why I never post pictures of my child online.’ The article led me to a news story of a young mom named April. In 2012, she gave birth to twins, Sophia and Vivienne. She was a mom that loved to post pictures of her children online. April even joined a special Facebook group where she would upload pictures of her babies, which were often met with adoring comments and support. Then, one day she got a message from a total stranger alerting her that her kids pictures were found on another woman’s page.
The twins were now named Adaya and Kamberlin. These babies had a new mom. Her name was listed as Ashley and she spoke about the love she had for her children and even shared false medical issues the girls were suffering from. April was a victim of a digital kidnapper. The police were not able to do anything as there was ‘no crime’ or actual harm to the children. Despite threats of legal action and reports of a false profile, Ashley kept posting pictures of her ‘children’. Flash forward to 2016, and April was still fighting this digital kidnapper and even appeared on an episode of Dr Phil where she revealed just how far the story escalated.
April and her husband hired a private investigator to investigate Ashley- this fake mom came with a criminal profile and a longstanding “history” of her twins being taken away from her by her mother. Worst of all, there were pictures of her fake daughters all over her house — on her bedstand, on the living room walls, and in the entry way.
While this story is extreme, it speaks volumes to the society we are living in. People share every moment and detail online for temporary hits of pleasure and satisfaction from virtual strangers and distant friends. This trend goes hand in hand with artists having their material stolen and passed off as someone else, or even online fraud and identity theft. People catfish everyday, pretending to be someone else in order to get a date. Cases like this did not exist 10 to 15 years ago because your personal treasures and moments were kept in a photo album inside a drawer and pulled out only when close friends or family come to visit. Now, nothing is private and nothing is sacred. Our culture has evolved so dramatically that this is the new normal.
The babyrp hashtag has been hidden on Instagram due to reported content that doesn’t meet the website’s ‘conditions,’ but from the few posts that remain, strangers role play the lives of babies and kids, giving them an entirely different life and creepy fantasies. This is truly the dark side of Instagram and, as I said before, the trend is small but growing thanks to our obsession with social media. So, what can you do?
- The obvious, would be to limit the amount of posts with your young kids on social media or use platforms that only temporarily share the pictures like snapchat or Instagram Story.
- Don’t include any identity details in the pictures
- Download an app that helps you watermark pictures, similar to professional photographers.
- Tighten up your privacy settings: you have the option to make your profile private on sites like Instagram
- Review your friends lists and make sure you’re actually willing to share these photos with your online friends and consider e-mail for larges sets of pictures
Digital kidnapping is not illegal and it is hard to control, just be aware of what you post online and make it difficult for people to identify your child as their own.