We hear all the time that nothing on the Internet is ever entirely private, and that once it’s online, it’s there forever. Most people, however, tend to think that it’s okay to post pictures of themselves, their families, their pets, and so on. They probably know there’s a risk, but they still want to share all of those things with people they know.
Unfortunately, when we share with people we know, we’re also sharing with total strangers, as my 20-year-old and I, and several others, discovered last week.
Someone on Instagram alerted my 20-year-old to a picture on another girl’s Instagram. The picture was captioned something like, “Mark struggled with being a gay teen in high school. His bullies killed him. He was in the process of transitioning. Such an inspiration!”
The picture… wasn’t anyone named Mark. Wasn’t even of anyone male. It was of my 20-year-old, a picture they had posted on their own Instagram a week or so earlier. (Note: My 20-year-old is agender and prefers “they/them” pronouns; explaining for the sake of clarity, and with their permission.) The 20-year-old and some of their friends confronted the girl, who denied stealing the pictures and insisted that the pic on her account was really a boy named Mark. Even when some others who apparently knew the girl personally joined in, and when 20-year-old posted the picture the girl had stolen, the girl continued to deny it.
The problem didn’t stop there, though. The girl stole a few more of 20-year-old’s pictures. She captioned one of them with a different story about Mark and how he died. I made the mistake of posting on the picture telling the girl to stop stealing my kid’s pics…and she went to *my* Instagram and stole three of *my* pics. One of me on a camping trip with a friend last summer, one of my husband holding our then-newborn nephew, and my author pic. I’d rather not say what she captioned those.
My 20-year-old confronted the girl via direct message, demanding that the girl take down the pictures of me and my nephew. The girl’s response was disturbing: “Why does it matter to you? They aren’t people you care about.” When 20-year-old pointed out that the *pictures* were of people they care about, the girl said, “No they aren’t. They aren’t real people.”
The girl, from what other people said, is 14 years old and has a history of doing this kind of thing. Several people made sure to post on every single picture saying that it was a fake, and giving the girl’s real name and the information that she’d been stealing pictures and making up stories about them for a while. My 20-year-old, some of her friends, some of the other people whose pictures this girl had stolen, and I all reported her to Instagram. My sister-in-law, the mother of my nephew, contacted a friend of hers who’s a state police trooper and was told the police wouldn’t be able to do anything; since the girl changed the names of the people in the pictures and (poorly) photoshopped them to appear a tiny bit different from the originals, it didn’t constitute any illegal behavior.
As of last night, the girl apparently took down almost all of the pictures she stole from 20-year-old and me, except the one of my nephew. She also posted what she called an apology: saying that she wasn’t going to post any more pictures “for other people” because she didn’t want to post anything untrue. I hope she’ll stop doing this kind of thing. Unfortunately, given what some of the people who know her had posted, I doubt she will.
So be careful what you put out there online. And, even though it sucks, be prepared to have someone else take what you’ve posted and use it for their own purposes. Sometimes pretty negative purposes.