I’m old enough to remember back in the 1990’s when the World Wide Web was starting to gain mainstream acceptance among all kinds of computer users besides hardcore geeks. At that time there was a debate on whether one should ever post photographs of children online. The big fear is that someone may innocently post a photo of her child or niece/nephew or friend’s child on her personal homepage, some pedophile will see that photo and begin to develop such a strong attraction to that child that he will go to great lengths to travel to that child’s hometown and abduct that child for his own sexual gratification.
I can remember when I used to have a fan site devoted to Furby, I had a personal journal that I manually coded on one of the HTML pages (I started that site before the first blogging platform went online). I wrote about my then-husband’s 10-year-old nephew’s reactions to my Furby but when I wrote about him, I only referred to him by his first and middle name because of the controversy about posting any kind of information about children online. I remember posting only two photos of the nephew on that site—one was a photo taken from behind as he was playing video games on his Nintendo so only the back of his head was visible and the other was a full-frontal photo but I digitally superimposed the face of one of my Furbys over my nephew’s face. I didn’t dare post any photos of his actual face nor did I ever divulge what town he really lived in. (I was vague to the point where I would only say that he lived in Northern Virginia.)
I know that over the years I’ve seen many of my friends and relatives who are parents post photos of their children on Facebook. These same parents also enacted strict privacy controls where only people who are actually on their Friends list can see their children’s photos.
Despite more and more parents posting photos of their kids on social media in recent years, I happened to see this two-part episode of Dr. Phil on TV while I was in the hospital visiting with my mom this week that highlighted the risks in being too open with posting such pictures online. Here’s the basic gist: a couple had twin daughters in 2012. The mother was so thrilled and overwhelmed with having twins that she created a fake Facebook page so she could join various online support groups for parents of multiples where she could freely discuss such issues as breastfeeding under a pseudonym. She also used that fake page to frequently upload photos of her twins to those same groups.
In time the mother started sewing headbands and clothes for her twins and she parlayed those sewing skills into a part-time business known as SVET Chique Bowtique while using her twins as models for her handcrafted creations. She posted those photos on that page as well as posting them in those other Facebook groups. In 2013 someone posted on the mom’s fake Facebook page alerting the mother to the fact that another woman had downloaded the photos of her twins and had started a blog where this woman claimed the twins as being hers and she had even gone through the effort of giving the twins different names. The mother hired a private detective and managed to get that blog shut down.
The mother continued to post new photos of her twins after that fake blog got shut down but her problems didn’t end. She later learned that the same person behind that fake blog had started a Facebook page where she posted the same photos of those twins and claimed that the twins were her own. Her story was that after she gave birth to them in 2012 she surrendered custody to her mother-in-law because she was sent to prison and she hadn’t been able to regain custody since her release.
What’s more, this faux mom started posting photos of items from her home that she wanted to sell online to various online yard sales. The twins’ real mom was alerted to those online yard sales because the person who alerted the mom had recognized the framed photos in the background as being identical to the photos that the real mom had posted online. Apparently the faux mom had been printing out photos of those twins she downloaded from the Internet and she put them in picture frames to display all over her home. To say that this is creepy would definitely be an understatement.
Ultimately the twins’ real parents and that faux mom, Ashley, ended up as guests on The Dr. Phil Show and you can click here to read the gist of the two-part episode along with watching video excerpts from those two shows. Having seen both episodes, I can say that it’s obvious that Ashley has serious mental health issues and I have no idea if she actually accepted the show’s offer of undergoing therapy or, if she did, if she stuck with it. (The two-part episode was a repeat that originally aired in May. There were no updates as to whether Ashley actually went into the free therapy that The Dr. Phil Show provided.)
I know that Dr. Phil can be a bit of a self-righteous blowhard and I question why he felt the need to spread out this story over two episodes because it wasn’t a very complicated and detailed story. (It could’ve been easily told in full in one episode.) But I still think parents should check those two episodes online here and here as a cautionary tale against oversharing photos and details about their children’s lives on social media, especially among the general public.