Virtual baby snatching, a disturbing new social media trend, is another good reason for parents to adjust their privacy settings.
On the photo-sharing app Instagram, users are role-playing with baby photos stolen from other users – usually strangers. Some anonymous users are even taking the stolen baby pictures and creating what Fast Company's Blake Miller, who first reported on the trend, calls “virtual adoption agencies” that vet prospective adoptive parents and adopt out the babies who are given made-up names and bios.
Instagram user Jenny, who posted pictures of her premature triplets, was alerted by other users that an Instagram user who called herself Nikki was passing off Jenny’s baby as her own son Wyatt. “Nikki,” Jenny told Fast Company, “said he was a preemie, she gave his weight, length, everything. All made up.”
Jenny (who asked that her last name not be used) hasn’t had much luck reporting Nikki’s account to Instagram, which didn’t respond to her complaint that a suspected teenager was lifting pictures of other people’s babies for use on her own profile. (Those who have been able to make contact with Nikki suspect that she is probably a tween, that is, someone aged 11 or 12 years old.) When Jenny confronted Nikki and asked her to take the photos down, she responded by changing her username.
Psychiatrist Gail Saltz, author of “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Secret Life,” said these role-playing teens and tweens may come from broken or abusive homes. “These role players have a desire to try on the fantasy of being a family person, a mother,” she said to Fast Company, “whatever it might be that they’re searching for or void they’re trying to fill.”
Instagram user @adoptionrp sometimes answers questions in the voice of the baby in the photo and even poses questions to prospective (virtual) adoptive parents: “why do u wanna adopt grace? What if she went missing? What would u do if she said she hates u?”
Another "virtual adoption agency" Instagram user, @adoption_pr, under the photo taken from the Instagram of a prominent "mommy blogger," captions the photo, “This is Emily she is 1 and is lesbian/gay.” A commenter claiming to be her mother writes, “This is my photo- please remove it. You DO NOT have permission to use my photos and I have reported this account.”
It is unclear if or how Instagram plans to address the photo-snatching. The company has yet to issue a public response.