Baby role-play: A potentially abusive fetish flourishing on Instagram

Categories: News and Events, Other, Our Perspective

Excerpt from The Washington Post.

A group of Instagram users are creating strange fictional relationships using photos of other people’s children.

Often the accounts are anonymous or private. They are filled with photos of babies and kids, presumably stolen from social media sites. These are mostly amateur shots — say, from a family’s trip to the beach or a baby toddling in the backyard — not professional photos.

In comments, the fantasy comes to life. Users have conversations pretending to be the parent or the baby. The babies “say” things like “Mes wove fwowers!” while other users might ask what the babies favorite color is or if it wants to be held. Users talk about feeding and disciplining the child as though it were their own. They use hashtags like #openrp, #babyrp and #kidrp so other enthusiasts can play along. Some users have entire fake families. Others create Instagram accounts where they invite followers to “adopt” babies, posting stolen photos along with made up profiles.

It’s called baby role-playing.

A photo posted by @adoptionrp of a baby tangled in a toy is captioned “Name: charlie Age: 1 Likes: pjs She’s stuck and she’s really scared.” Below commenters wrote things like “Oh let me see you need a band aid here *slowly puts a band aid on her booboo” and “Can I take you out *smiles and starts to untangle ropes*.”

A photo posted by @adoptionrp of a baby tangled in a toy is captioned “Name: charlie Age: 1 Likes: pjs She’s stuck and she’s really scared.” Below commenters wrote things like “Oh let me see you need a band aid here *slowly puts a band aid on her booboo” and “Can I take you out *smiles and starts to untangle ropes*.”

The problem isn’t new. A Change.org petition asking Instagram to deactivate baby role-play accounts has been circulating for more than a year.

What is Instagram doing to stop this? “This type of content violates our terms,” an Instagram spokesperson told The Washington Post in an email. “Once a parent or guardian reports it to us, we work quickly to remove it.” However some parents report difficulties getting the offending accounts removed. A mother from Charlotte, N.C., told Fast Company she contacted Instagram to report a private user who had stolen photos of her infant daughter. She said: “Their response was that this was impersonation of a minor and I should be reporting that a minor is using Instagram. I wrote back and said this is not a minor using Instagram. She claims she’s 14 and she’s using a picture of my baby and other babies. They never responded.”

Last year, an Instagram spokesman told the Daily Dot the company has a team that reviews content violations reported by users. They also scan every photo uploaded to the site with PhotoDNA, a software that helps law enforcement track child molesters. However, PhotoDNA only works to identify child pornography law enforcement is already aware of. It looks for copies of offensive material by scanning code attached to online images.

Meanwhile, Instagram has disabled accounts of mothers who posted photos of their own children. Courtney Adamo, who blogs for Babyccino Kids, reported her account was disabled after she posted a photo of her 18-month old daughter lifting her shirt to inspect her bellybutton. Her account was later restored. Instagram has also disabled accounts of mothers who posted photos of themselves breastfeeding and the account of a fashion photographer who posted a photo of her bikini line.

Instagram users such as @babyrp_revealed and @stop_babyrp have started policing accounts themselves. They “out” baby role-play accounts on Instagram and encourage followers to report them. There is also a hashtag #downwithbabyrp.

“A mother’s worst fear is someone taking their child; in my mind, this ranks right up there close. People are fantasizing about owning my baby,” Elizabeth Harper, a mother who found photos of her child on an Instagram role play account, told the Toronto Star.

See the full article here.

OUR TAKE

Many of us know not to post naked or semi-naked pictures of our children on social media. But in this trend on Instagram, role-players steal innocent photos of children and turn them into potentially abusive fantasies, without the parents’ knowledge or consent.

In a world where social media sharing is common and almost inevitable, it’s unrealistic to tell parents never to post pictures of their children and families. However, we urge parents to take precautions that protect their children’s online identity. Here are three quick safety tips:

1. Set your profile to private on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other social media outlet where you are posting your children’s photos. This means only people you friend will be able to see your photos.

2. Ensure you actually know each of your “friends” on your social media profiles. By friending people you’ve never met, you put your photos and your information at risk. Fake profiles are commonly used to steal profiles and identities (yours and now, your children’s). Also, if you would hesitate sharing personal information about your children to any of your friends in person, they may not be a good candidate for a social media friend, either.

3. If you run across a fake profile or suspect someone of fraudulently using children’s pictures, report it as a terms of service violation to the applicable social media outlet.

Finally, you should know that the only way to truly minimize opportunity and ensure your children’s photos are protected is not to post them. However, to place blame on parents for posting pictures removes blame from where it truly belongs – those who would steal children’s images and create these disturbing alternate realities.

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