Baby role-play: Digital kidnappers worth a privacy settings check

Parents may have a reason to update their privacy settings and be picky about what they post online: people stealing photos and passing off strangers' kids as their own.

Karly Domb Sadof/FILE
File-This April 9, 2012, file photo shows Instagram being demonstrated on an iPhone in New York.

Parents might want to recheck their privacy settings as news breaks that digital kidnappers are stealing family snapshots and repost them as their own as part of a role-playing community online.

It’s called “babyrp” for baby role-playing and it’s a thing on Instagram. People steal a baby’s photo from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sources and reposts it in a stream of comments as if the child belonged to the virtual kidnapper.

Mommy blogger Lindsey Paris of Atlanta Georgia, tells various media sources that photos of her baby were lifted by total strangers from her blog “Redhead Baby Mamma” and used for baby role-playing on Instagram.

This practice, considered by some a fetish, was reported by the photo website Fast Company and later by The Washington Post back in September 2014. These reports included the hashtag #adoptionRP as yet another to be wary of and perhaps search for stolen images of your children.

A closed year-old petition also circulated on the website to try and put an end to the practice of babyrp which reads:

“Parents are having pictures they post stolen from their accounts and online. The pictures are being posted by other accounts for role playing purposes. Some of the role playing is harmless, but some of it includes violence and sex acts with the child. Often the offending account will not remove a picture when asked to do so by the parents. You can check it out on Instagram at #downwithbabyrp.”

It’s not difficult at all to imagine feeling a mixture of violation and rage at this kind of act taking place.

Reading about Ms. Paris I can easily empathize with the upset over the theft of both a child’s image and a parent’s identity. I can also see this as a practice that is unlikely to be contained by or limited to just Instagram.

While this latest incident is a wakeup call to set privacy settings high wherever possible, it is also a reminder to think twice before posting pictures of our kids. I am guilty of having tons of pictures of my own kids online because I am a blogger and a camera hound.

Yet this incident made me take a look around the internet to try and get a handle on what’s out there in the realm of parental role-playing.

For starters, “babyrp” is not to be confused with the role-playing activity of living with “Reborn Babies,” the lifelike silicone infant dolls used as role-playing fantasy tools to simulate having a real infant, similar to what might be used in a school course on parenting. Those infant dolls cost around $500, according to web sites that sell the dolls.

Baby role-playing is easily found with a hashtag of the same name and #openrp on Twitter. “OpenRP” involves users role playing as a variety of ways from Japanese Manga cartoon characters to dolls and more.

While every social media site has a tab for privacy settings, Social Media Examiner website has a convenient tutorial break-down on how to alter and check settings on each platform.

And perhaps those invested in role playing as parents might channel their interests into more socially acceptable realms such as parental role-playing cards from Vanderbilt University’s Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. The center focuses on “promoting the social emotional development and school readiness of young children birth to age 5.” and cards help work through various scenarios, from tantrums and saying “no” to kids.

My card for this scenario would be: “Someone steals your child’s photo and pretends to be his/her parent in various online forums. You reclaim your parental power by notifying authorities and sharing the information with as many parents as you possibly can.”

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