psst, parents

Do you want to know a thing that is going on, on Instagram? You probably don't want to know, but I am going to tell you anyway, because you should know, unfortunately. This got some coverage on GOMI (yep, failed at quitting that, too, because I can haz iPad and phone browser), but I know not everyone reads GOMI, and I think it's worth getting the word out to those of you that don't.

This is a thing that is going on, on Instagram: some individuals are, without permission, reposting photos of other peoples' children on make-believe "adoption" accounts, where followers are invited to engage in verbal role play about those children. The idea is to leave comments describing what you're doing with that child at that moment. Like, say, feeding it. Or holding it.

Or undressing it.

Or bathing it.

Or spanking it.

Still with me, or are you off scrambling to find your phone, so you can set your Instagram profile to private?

Curious after reading this article (which got exactly one comment), I hopped onto IG to see for myself. It took all of thirty seconds to find @ig_adoptions2002, which features 78 photos of children, mostly babies and toddlers, though one girl looks to my (admittedly inexpert) eye to be closer to five. There are a few shots of multiples, too.

Many of the children are in a state of undress, if not completely naked.

I scrolled through the pictures to read the comments. Some have no comments at all. Some have comments saying things like "I want him" or "Hi, cuties".

Some have the sorts of role playing comments described in the article. often written in misspelled, simplistic language or else in mimicry of baby talk. One such exchange:

[adopter]: Cuddles him all night I wuv wu hinny buns

[adoptee]: cant sleep

[adopter]: Ok buddy gives him mommy mlk

[adoptee]: Yay. Pats ur boob & watches tv

[adopter]: Lets him tamper with me

[adoptee]: sees somone looking through bedroom windoow & screams

(this scene goes on for several lines)

[adopter]: Takes him spanks him and then puts him in a box that had poison

[adoptee]: It smwell bwad. Climbs out. 

You get the idea. I could have posted screenshots, but I feel like what should be regarded as extremely disturbing and potentially dangerous starts to devolve into comedy when you're actually looking at the feed, because it is just that bizarre. But feel free to check it out yourself. 

I was further curious about what sorts of people were just "liking" these photos. One liker, @_randoms_rp, has a gallery full of photos of adolescent boys and girls. Some of the shots are obviously professional, but many appear to be pics of everyday kids, pretty much exactly the sorts of pics I see all day, every day, on my own feed. 

The @ig_adoptions2002 account hasn't posted anything new for eight weeks. Clicking around shows that several people have reported the account to Instagram, though it's obviously still very much in existence. The profile says "ACCOUNT IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION...AS FOR NOW NO CHILDREN ARE FOR ADOPTION." It additionally says "IG adoptions are where you get to "adopt" a baby or child for roleplay. This is all just for fun. :)"

Totally. Fun. I mean, it's probably just a bunch of bored tween girls playing virtual house. There are probably no predators or child pornographers messing about with this stuff whatsoever. And anyway, the account hasn't been touched in eight weeks. I'm sure whoever made it is done with all of it. I'm sure he or she didn't go and make a new, unreported and unexposed account elsewhere. I'm sure these are the last of the photos of anyone's kids that'll turn up being used in this way. And anyway, there are so few people who actually do this, from the looks of these accounts. It probably doesn't go on anywhere else online on a scale that we can only guess at (until the FBI releases the real numbers - or what it thinks the real numbers are).

This shit? This shit is exactly why I mentally high five every parent whose IG is set to private. I cannot for the life of me see what is possibly worth the benefit of doing it any other way. What aspect of your child's privacy could ever not be worth the mild inconvenience of vetting your Instagram followers? Is your impulse to show them off really not outmatched by your desire to shield them from predatory eyes? It's awful to think that for anyone, follower count + ego > child's privacy, but sadly, I wonder if sometimes this isn't exactly the case.

I can hear the predictable objection: Ok Ellie, let's all live in a state of fear and never ever post pictures of our children anywhere online. Realistic!

Not saying that. I'm saying be judicious. I'm saying every single social media platform and photo sharing site has privacy controls. What's wrong with tightening your settings to only allow known friends and family to see images of your children? What's wrong with sharing albums privately on, say, Google+?

I have a lot of friends who blog pics of their kids. And yes, theoretically, there's not much difference in terms of accessibility of those photos. But we all know how ridiculously easy it is to grab a quick screenshot with our phones, and then fire that image off to wherever the hell we want. Why not take control of at least one area of our internet life, where taking control is as easy as tapping a button that says "Posts Are Private"?

No, pics of your kids are not voodoo dolls. If some disturbed individual is engaging, unbeknownst to you, in mental fantasy over an image of your child, your child won't feel a thing. And if you're comfortable with that possibility, hey, I guess you can carry on as usual without feeling any discomfort or unease.

Me? I hope to be giving more and more mental high fives as time goes on.