ATLANTA, Ga. - Parents are discovering photos of their children are being stolen from social media websites and being re-posted by others who claim the children are their own.
It's called "baby role playing," or in other words, digital kidnapping. Type "#BabyRP" into Instagram search. Thousands of photos of babies, children- even ultrasound pictures- will pop up. These photos do not belong to the users posting them.
A mother in Atlanta, Lindsey Paris, discovered her 18-month-old son's picture on an Instagram account. The user was claiming the baby was her own child.
Paris originally posted the picture on her blog, Redhead Baby Mama, a place she intended to keep a digital scrapbook of her child's special moments.
She found someone else using those special moments and making us stories about her son, such as posting he had an upset stomach.
Paris contacted the woman who posted the picture; and, within a couple of days the photo was removed.
"It's like playing house online," said Paris, "with other people's children. I was totally panicked. I didn't know what they were doing. I didn't know 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.'"
BabyRP is a growing online community that is mostly made up of teen and tween-aged girls. There are even accounts that act as fake adoption agencies with made up backstories for each photo. Users compete to adopt the picture or role play in the comments section, often typing in "baby talk." Some accounts are more disturbing than others, with users obsessing over naked babies or breast-feeding. Luckily for Paris, that was not the case.
Child advocacy groups such as Fighting for All Kids have started a petition to get Instagram to crack down on role-playing accounts like the one Paris encountered.
So far, Instagram has said the trend is a violation of their company's policies and if they are notified of a picture that is breaking the rules, they will remove it from their site.
For parents who are concerned about photos of their children being misused, there is a way to get some peace of mind.
A reverse image search on Google can help you find out if your photos are being used on other websites or social networks.
The easiest way to prevent this from happening is to keep photos of your children extremely private. You can also use a free or cheap watermarking app to "mark" your pictures before you post them, proving ownership.
A reverse image search on Google can help you find out if your photos are being used on other websites or social networks. However, due to privacy settings on social media sites, this is not a guaranteed way to determine if pictures are being used.
To do a reverse image search, just go to the "images" tab on Google and click on the camera icon in the search bar.
From there, you can either upload a picture from your computer or use an image URL to search for other places that your image may be used.