Social media is a huge part of modern life. Often it’s a fun space, helping to maintain social connections and providing access to brilliant support networks. While it’s not always easy to see, there is a dark side of social media. When an image of your children is used for sexual gratification, the dark side of social media becomes very hard to ignore.
In September 2015, I dressed my eldest two sons in their swimmers and off we went to swimming lessons. I got to the pool and plonked them in. Then I realised I’d left the bag with their goggles, towels and change of clothes at home. If you follow Life on Wallace on Facebook (thank you), this might be vaguely familiar to you.
At the end of the lesson we used a towel from lost property. It was gross, but I had no other option! The boys went home wearing their speedos, shoes and socks. Thankfully it was a sun-shiney day. I took a picture of them in their funny outfits, or lack of outfits. I posted that sweet and amusing photo to the blog’s Facebook page. It was an innocent picture that perfectly captured my mum fail.
I didn’t give it a second thought until July 2016.
The dark side of social media slaps me in the face
Randomly, in July someone with a male, Spanish sounding name left a comment on the photo. It was something like ‘cutest beautiful babies’. I thought it was an odd comment and strange timing, but I wasn’t concerned. Then the photo got a few more likes, from men with unusual names. Now I have nothing against men, or unusual names, but I did wonder why they cared about a mummy blog’s Facebook page. And why the sudden interest in that photo? The moment I become alarmed and freaked out was when a male left a sexually explicit comment on the photo. I will spare you the details, because it was vile.
I screen shot everything, blocked the profiles and deleted the photo. I then used Facebook to stalk the men. All of them had what I would describe as ‘suspect’ friends. The friend’s profile pictures were all of young boys. Many in sexually suggestive poses, occasionally topless. One showed a naked torso and bottom of a child, laying face down on some cushions. At this point I was panicked.
I reported it all to a contact I have at the Federal Police. But there was no actual offence in their conduct. I was told ‘sadly the world is full of weirdos’.
Although I deleted the photo, it is entirely possible that the photo of my two innocent little boys has made its way into someone sinister’s hands. That is my fault. Once I posted that photo I lost control over it, who saw it and how they perceived it. The inappropriate comment made me sick with worry that the image is being used for sexual gratification.
I should not have posted that photo on Facebook. Of course I could never have predicted what would happen but I failed to protect my sons. Frankly, I should have known better. I’ve worked alongside law enforcement agencies while they investigated and prosecuted child pornography offences. I’m well aware this stuff happens.
Learn from my stupidity
Here’s the moral of the story: you can never be too careful about what you post online. To you it might be a sweet, innocent photo. To others, it’s a weird turn on that might put perverted thoughts into their heads. Please don’t post pictures online of bare chested kids, or in any state of undress, no bath or shower photos (even with strategically placed stars), and no bare bottoms. Even if the photo doesn’t show ‘private parts’ it is not necessarily safe to share. I know it seems absurd, but the world we live in has some creeps.
I was anxious and embarrassed about sharing this with you. If you are thinking ‘ how could she be so stupid’ we’ll you are absolutely right. It was a momentary lapse of concentration that I regret. I decided it was a sorry story worth telling because this kind of thing can happen so easily. I don’t want to alarm you, or lecture you, but please learn from my mistake. Be very careful about the images you share on social media. Once a photo is online, anyone can do anything with it. Frighteningly, they may view the image very differently from you. I still feeling terribly guilty for letting the boys, and Mr Wallace, down. Posting that photo was certainly a much bigger mummy fail than leaving the swimming bag at home.
Please, protect your kids online!
Have you ever encountered the dark side of social media? I truly hope you haven’t!
Linking up with Kylie for #IBOT