The dark side of social media

the dark side of social media cover

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.

The backstory

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

68 thoughts on “The dark side of social media

  1. Oh this story makes my skin crawl. How terrifying and disgusting and disheartening. It makes me despair for humanity really. Why is the world full of so much ugliness?? But please stop beating yourself up about it – learn from it and move on. And we’ll all learn from it too!

    1. Thanks Rachel, that means a lot. While there’s absolutely ugliness in the world, I still have faith in the good of humanity. Can’t let the creeps get me down!

  2. Oh love what an absolutely horrifying and scary experience. No judgement here whatsoever, and I’ll be looking at what photos I’ve posted online of my beautiful boys.

    Thanks for sharing, very brave xx

  3. I don’t think that anyone would be judging your actions. You didn’t do anything wrong. The arseholes viewing a photo of little boys is swimsuits as sexual did wrong. I think there is a bare bottom pic of my kids on insta though, and you’ve made me think. It must have been an awful experience for you.

    1. It was rather unpleasant Dani. I think I’m so hard on myself because I ought to have known better and been more careful!

  4. Oh you poor thing – what a horrible experience. What’s so scary is that nothing can be done legally to stop these men. As difficult as this story is to share, it’s so important, because as adults, being vigilant about the pictures we post of children, is the best way to protect them.

    1. That’s right Sammie, and that’s why I feel so terribly about it. I needed to be vigilant to protect them and I failed.

  5. Oh man, that is horrendous! The older my kids get the more I think about what I’m posting and how it might be misused. With Punky starting school next year that question is even more at the front of my mind. It’s a hard thing for me to figure out, because I have to balance her privacy, and also the fact that I’m a photographer and sharing photos is part of my business. I need to really sit down and try to figure out exactly what to do from next year, it’s definitely a tricky thing to navigate. Being the first real internet generation there is no roadmap, we are forging the path and it’s going to take some trial and unfortunately error. I am so sorry this happened to you, there really are some sickos in this world!

    1. Thanks Kylie. I think as they get older it becomes an issue of their consent, in a way. Although at what age they can give ‘informed consent’ is hard to know. When it comes to school, I’m always careful to blur the logo on my son’s school uniform. That’s to protect our privacy in a way. But it is a hard balance.

    1. Well if I have made you think more about what you post online, then my work here is done Haidee! It sure was a horrible experience.

    1. It is indeed a sad world! But I will be VERY careful about what I post now, I don’t want to give those creeps more photos.

  6. Oh gosh, what a horrible experience you’ve been through. You never put it on there with the intention of what happening, would actually happen, so don’t beat yourself up. You’re human. You’ve done all you can to correct it and we all appreciate you sharing your story so we can learn the dark side too.

    1. Oh thank you Melissa, you are right! Obviously I’d never deliberately put my children at risk of harm but I do feel like I let them down. I’m glad that I’ve been able to share this lesson with my lovely and supportive readers.

  7. What a horrible experience and something that any of us could or have done. It’s easy to to think the majority of your followers are female so it’s okay but clearly that is not the point. I think even any of my photos which are always clothes are still potentially at risk. I often deliberate about my choice to put them “out there”. So sorry you had to go through that and thank you for sharing as it is certainly good to show it can and does happen

    1. Thanks Suzy. I think I am learning that you really can’t be too careful with what you post online! It’s reassuring that others can learn from my mistakes.

  8. Oh wow, there are some really disgusting people out there. I never post a photo of my girls online without asking them and showing them the photo first. After all it their body and their image. Hence why you will see more photos of one of my daughters than of the others.

  9. That is a lesson to everyone isn’t it? I can understand how it must have rocked you to the core. I do agree that ‘cute’ is a photo which can be “taken in different ways” by some. So sorry that this occurred. Good to let your community know!

    1. Thanks Denyse, there really is a lesson in it for all parents. It’s a perverse mind that sees a ‘sweet’ photo of a child as ‘sexy’.

  10. How frightening! I think you’re absolutely right about needing to protect our kids. It is incredibly sad that, in a moment of pride, amusement or adoration, we have to stop and think about these unsavory individuals before acting.

  11. That’s horrible. Worse still that there is so little regulation on the internet and people from all over the world can act with impunity because it is too hard to trace them. It’s something I’m going to drill into my own children once they have social media accounts – once you put something up, you can never completely remove it again.

    1. That is absolutely right! I’ve generally got a ‘telegraph pole’ post. If you’re happy for the post or photo to be on the telegraph pole at the front of your house, for all to read or see, then it’s ok to post online. If not, then don’t post it!

  12. I hate that we live in this kind of world. I am very careful about the images I share of my kids but then you read about how any images can be sexualised and it is just horrifying. But then, do we post anything? It’s such a hard one.

    1. I must say Robyna that it has made me stop and think about whether I should post any photos of my boys online at all. There’s a blogger on Instagram (whose name I can’t recall) who takes beautiful photos but never shows her children’s faces. It’s very clever and serves to protect her kids. I wonder if it’s too late for me to do that, but it is a great compromise.

    1. Sure was Emma. Unfortunately the AFP didn’t really see any crime in it, which is true. But I’m still hopeful it helps for intelligence purposes, that might be optimistic though.

  13. I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the photos I post on social media these days. I very rarely even post photos with my daughters face anymore let alone with her in togs or without a top etc. I think lots of people think I’m overly paranoid, but this is exactly why. I also don’t understand why people are so willing to share bare bum or even naked photos in huge mothers groups on fb, you really have no idea who else is in those groups and there are thousands of members. Its quite disgusting that we have to second guess everything these days because there are so many perverts out there. #teamIBOT

    1. Toni, I can assure you that you are not being overly paranoid! Stick to your guns. You’re right about sharing photos in closed groups, you have no idea who the other people are in that group, or their motives. You really can’t be too careful! Thanks for your insightful comment.

  14. I’m so sorry this happened to you. It’s truly awful. I tend to keep my daughter off the blog and associated social media but she does pop up from time to time. I’ve seen other people with far greater reach posting pictures of their kids that I certainly wouldn’t share. I hope your message gets out there. Sometimes people need to hear it from someone it actually happened to.

    1. Thanks Beth, you’re right sometimes it’s easy to think that things like this won’t happen to you. But if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone!

  15. Oh my gosh! I’ve read this story before. I think I read one of your posts somewhere warning moms about this matter. I am also very wary of what I post online knowing that acts of paedophilia are happening more often than I would want to believe. It is very upsetting for me and I’m glad your boys are still safe and fine. We make mistakes as mums but at the end of the day, we learn our lesson and become better parents. Thanks for sharing this. A big hug to you!

  16. Would never for a minute think you did anything wrong. We caught a guy taking photos of my daughter a couple of years ago at Chinatown which was just weird and inappropriate and we got a security guard involved and made the guy delete the photos from his camera. Weirdos are everywhere, whether you post the photos online or a stranger takes them. Much Love.

  17. That is horrible. I only put photos of my kids from behind or from a distance as it freaks me out that someone might use their image for the wrong reason. Sorry that you had to go through this but thank you for sharing.

  18. Thank you for sharing your story because as hard as it must have been for you, it certainly will open some eyes! So sad that we have to be this cautious, makes my heart hurt.

  19. This is absolutely horrible, so sorry you had to go through this. I have an 8 year old son, I can imagine how you feel. Thanks for posting, hopefully it helps other people so they know not to post photos of their kids online.

    1. Thanks for your empathy. I do hope that it serves as a reminder to others to be very careful about the photos they post online.

  20. Very scary but an apt reminder that once we post things on the web they are no longer in our control. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Thank you for being open and honest about your experience. Hopefully, someone will read this and will heed your advice. Social media, for all it’s good points, probably has an equal number of bad points too. Everyone, from teenagers to bloggers, must be careful about what we share with the world. Take care.

  22. Oh I’m so sorry to hear this happened. I guess that’s why some people share in private FB groups on – marginally lessens the risk. You know, we can sometimes only learn by experience xox

    1. I hate to say it Vanessa but closed Facebook groups aren’t as safe as people think. I mostly share those kid of pictures on Tinybeans, a great photo sharing program. This has certainly been an experience I have learnt from.

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