I received a private message on Instagram this weekend. It was from a random person – not someone who I follow or who follows me – and it basically said another Instagram user had stolen a photo from me and was saying it was her son. The message included the stolen photo and the caption underneath, and I instantly recognized the photo.
And my heart sunk.
Someone stole the first photo I ever shared of Eleanor. Rob took this picture of E with my hand reaching in. It was the first time I met any of my trio, and I was barely holding myself together. I was getting bombarded with updates and consent forms, meeting nurses and neonatologists, and it was the first time I’d ever seen such tiny humans.
My tiny humans, no less.
I was scared and devastated and ashamed (premature birth does terrible things to one’s self esteem) and still numb from the armpits down thanks to the c-section I went through just three hours prior.
And some heartless piece of garbage stole this photo and said it is her son.
Unfortunately, the user, “Nikki,” has a private account, so I couldn’t see or confront her about it until she accepted my request to follow her account. So I requested, and I waited.
It wasn’t long before another random IG user sent me a message telling me the same thing as the first – my photo was stolen and being used by a teen girl. This time, I got more details. The thief has been “stealing” babies since last August and has “had” 15-20 fake babies since then.
The alarms started buzzing in my head.
Who are these people telling me about my photo? Why do they know so much about this awful person?
On one hand, I want to assume they’re just good people who cautiously follow a nutjob to help alert the people from whom she steals. Luckily, I had a friend watermark this image before I ever posted it, and though it shows the old title of my blog, Google led them right back to me.
On the other hand, maybe they knew it was me all along and were looking to stir up a shitstorm. Who knows.
“Nikki” finally approved my follow request the day after I learned about her, but she had already deleted the photo – allegedly because people questioned the watermark. I didn’t see Eleanor’s photo on her account, but I did see four other photos of premature babies, and I confronted her.
“Those are my son’s photos,” she said. “The only picture I stole was yours.”
I posted the other photos on my own IG account, hoping someone might see and recognize them and prepared myself for some backlash. You can’t kick a bee hive without getting stung. I know this.
The world started to look downright crazy when more than 20 accounts with profiles similar to the “Nikki” started following me later that day. All teen girls. All “moms.” All with ask.fm links in their profiles. Mostly private Instagram accounts. Then the comments started rolling in. “She’s crazy.” “She does this all the time.” “I’m so sorry she’s done this to you.” “Don’t trust the user with XXX name – it’s actually ‘Nikki’ pretending to be someone else. She has several names.”
The comments made me spin in circles, and because I don’t know where these people came from or if they’re actually “people” and not one person, I’ve locked down my account and blocked any users that look anything like this “Nikki.”
Even today, I’ve gotten 10ish requests from similar-looking accounts, wanting to follow me … why? I’m not sure. The fact is that some people do nasty things simply because they enjoy getting a rise out of people. Some people are malicious in their Internet tomfoolery, and some people are just nuisances. Some people poke at a fire for a bit and run off to poke at a different fire. Some people stick around and harass you for no good reason.
I don’t know what is going on, but since my babies are involved, I’m playing it cautious and staying on lockdown at least until some dust settles. I hate it. I hate this paranoia, I hate questioning every user that follows me. I hate blocking people who very well could be nice, normal people simply because one person is operating several shady, dishonest, cruel accounts. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with social media for the last five years, and now I’m feeling squicky about my involvement and building walls that may prevent me from connecting with lovely, new people.
Then, one IG friend commented that some teens are “playing house” on Instagram, stealing photos of babies and pretending they’re theirs. I can see where they’re going with this game, except NO. A few keystrokes looking into the “game,” led me to this GOMI update from last year, which is just OH HELL NO
Oh, and Instagram? They’re doing nothing. I’ve reported the impersonation, but they think my report mean someone opened an account and is pretending to be Eleanor. It’s been 48 hours since I filed my official report (I’ve flagged the profile as inappropriate as many times as I can), and I’ve gotten one response from them. For a platform that works on “insta” speed, they’re awfully slow at taking care of business.
I’ve argued with myself about what to do since this all started. Is any actual harm coming from this? Aside from my own stress, probably not. Might it have been wisest to just ignore the nuisance and be glad she deleted my photo? Maybe, but there are other babies involved. Other families. And while I might be putting a virtual target on my back while I stand up for those babies, I might also be helping “Nikki” realize what she’s doing isn’t just a game.
I just don’t know.
(Apologies if I’m speaking pure gibberish to you, and you know nothing about this Instagram whosiwhatsit. Just shake your head and be glad you aren’t part of it. Except maybe be jealous that I’ve met some amazing people on Instagram – preemie families, triplet families, breastfeeding families, local women who have become good friends, etc. The Internet may be full of crazy, but it’s also full of GOOD, and that is why I haven’t thrown down my virtual microphone and bolted offstage.)