Digital kidnapping trend threatens parents who post pictures of their children on social media

Digital Kidnapping: The Risks of Posting Child Photos on the Web

While we used to catch glimpses of our friends' children growing up through yearly holiday cards, today we're exposed to every detail of their young lives via social media. While most parents post pictures of their children on Facebook or Instagram without much thought, this creepy new trend changes everything.

Digital kidnapping involves social media fiends posting photos of young children to their social media accounts as if the children were their own. The creepy part is that these photos were taken from strangers' social media pages. The children don't actually belong to the users who claim them.

The trend has even developed into a terrifying subculture of users who add the hashtag #babyrp (baby role play) in order to find and share the photos. It doesn't get much weirder than that.

Or maybe it does. Dallas mother Danica Patterson recently fell victim to the trend after a stranger posted photos of Patterson's 4-year-old daughter, Bryleigh, on his Facebook account claiming to be her father.

The captions to the photos read "Ma daughter gunna break y'all sons hearts [sic]," and "Girl version of me." In one photo of the young girl in bed, the stranger wrote:

"This is how she looks in the morning ... she said daddy stop [taking pictures]."

Patterson became aware of the digital kidnapping when someone sent her a screenshot of the stranger's photos. Patterson told CBS:

"It was my daughter! All over his page. It's scary. That's the only thing I can really say, it's scary."

Similarly, Lindsey Paris recently found photos of her son posted to an 18-year-old stranger's Facebook and Instagram accounts. The stranger claimed to be the boy's mother. The Atlanta mom told NBC:

"It's absolutely petrifying. I totally panicked, I had no idea what to do next. She was saying things like, 'Isn't my child so cute?' And others would say, 'I know. I love the red hair. They absolutely role play to the highest degree that these are their children."

The stranger apologized and removed the photos after Paris contacted her. Patterson, on the other hand, was unsuccessful in contacting the user. That's when she turned to Facebook. The company responded:

"This type of content violates our standards. Once a parent or guardian reports it to us, we work quickly to remove it."

Like in Paris' case, a vast majority of these digital kidnappers are teenage girls who use the photos for a creepy game of make-believe. There are even virtual adoption agencies that enable users to bid for the photos. Users can request a particular looking child and the virtual adoption agencies will send them photos after searching for pictures that match the specific requests.

While most of the comments posted with the photos focus on make-believe stories about feeding the babies and caring for their health, some users take the photos to use them for sexual role play.

Advocacy groups such as Canada's Fighting For All Kids have launched petitions to end baby and child role-playing social media accounts.

With the growing rate of digital kidnapping, it might be best for parents to refrain from posting pictures of their young children to social media. It can be extremely difficult to get virtual kidnappers to remove the photos once they've been utilized.

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