When I watch a scary movie, or when a gruesome scene appears on television, I close my eyes. We all look away from things that we don’t want to see. But I am asking you to open your eyes now to something that you might rather look away from. I believe we have all have opportunity and responsibility to make a difference, so let’s open our eyes together and protect our kids.
I am so impressed with moms who get behind their kids and support their next great idea. Right now our kids’ interests seem to be focused on filming TikTok videos, messaging on Snapchat, and taking glamorous Instagram images. And who can blame them? It’s a perfect way to stay connected to their friends while staying home. If your kid is successful at creating an online following, their influence can also start making some serious money.
According to Vox, even people with smaller followings (called “nano-influencers”) can make $30-$60K per year. “Micro-influencers,” who have 10,000 to 50,000 followers, can make $40K-$100K per year. And if your following is over a million, your social media worth is far more: ranging, on average, from $10K to $100K per post. It pays to be cute, and no one know this better than the Mom of an Instagram child model.
I am relatively new to the world of Instagram influencers, brand reps (girls who represent brands online), and child models. I design children’s clothes, specifically modern and whimsical dresses. A few months ago, I decided to send my dress designs to a few key brand reps and build my audience.
When I started looking for Instagram models, I was looking for accounts with around 10,000 followers that had a look or brand that I liked, with consistent photos of happy kids. I quickly found a few accounts that fit the criteria, and we were off. It was amazing how easy it was. I found these adorable kids that take amazing photos and it took my brand to the next level. Not only did they take awesome photos, it resulted in sales, real money for my company.
But did you notice that the number of followers was the first criteria I was looking at? Here begins my dive into the world of Instagram followers, and the floodgates of child predators.
I remember the first suspicious account that started following me. Nothing too weird, just a middle-aged man that had a few random images on his Instagram Grid. I was curious as to why he was following me, and was surprised to see a grown man following almost exclusively little girls; then I looked at the hashtags that he was following and I just felt SICK. #kidsswimwear, #littlegymnast, #5yearsold, #6yearsold, #littlegirls, and way more. It was all there, plain to see. Not only was this predator not hiding at ALL — he wasn’t breaking any rules.
When you are a child model whose account is built on followers, not only do these followers build up your brand, they bring in a lot of revenue and free products. Your whole business is built on this number. Now there are a lot of accounts run by moms — obviously all the toddlers and baby ones are — but as they get older, they tend to manage their own businesses. Accounts get so many followers that you often don’t think about who they are, and new ones come and go every day. But one thing that is clear: You want more, not less.
Every mom or business that I talk to has the same reaction when I bring up this topic. “Yes, it is terrible, but I block them.”
I had the exact same reaction when I started. I thought I was doing enough, but I didn’t know what to look for. Even while researching this article I had to go through my own account a few times as I learned more about their behavior. I learned that there are not just a few predators, there are thousands. And these accounts are NOT hiding. Instagram has given them zero consequences. They so easily slide into our follower count unnoticed. All we see is a quick notification of a follower mixed in with the constant stream of alerts on our feeds, including every like, comment, direct message, and mention.
We all need to do better together. If you have a public Instagram account that involves photos of any kids, I ask you to try the following steps and see what you find:
*Please note that all of the accounts shown as examples are following young (under 10) child models and brand reps. I found hundreds of examples, but wanted to show you a few.
Step 1: Report and Block the Obviously Dangerous Accounts
Accounts like the examples below will immediately stand out. Review your followers by clicking on their accounts. The dangerous accounts will have images of kids in provocative positions and minimal clothes, following hundreds of little girl accounts and hashtags. I would also delete any followers with nude, sexual or pornographic accounts in this step, as they are easy to identify, report, and block/remove. I hope you don’t have any accounts like this, but in case they found their way in, get rid of them now!
Step 2: Block Accounts that Steal and Distribute Photos of Your Kids
Not only are these accounts involved in predatory behavior, they bring your own kids into it. This is the reason a lot of parents don’t allow ANY photos of their kids online. The truth can be scary, and every parent has to make a decision on what they are comfortable with.
I personally think that the best thing you can do is block and report these accounts. There is no reason for them to have access to our kids. I easily found accounts that were stealing kids’ photos when I looked and asked to follow them – a lot of these accounts are private. I have a policy that if you are going to follow me with a private account, I request to see your account. If the request is denied, I block you. I post photos of kids and I believe it is my responsibility to keep them safe.
If you are a mom of a child model, you know your brand is everything, and a simple “Don’t steal my photos” message does nothing to stop them. The last thing anyone wants is to find your child or a photo with their product associated with any of these accounts.
Step 3: Look for the Hidden Predator
These accounts’ profiles can look like anything. While often they are a middle-aged man, they may pose as photographers, or sometimes they use unassuming flower images like the account example below. Ask yourself, why are they following me? There are two things I immediately look at: First, who they follow; then, the hashtags they follow. If you just follow the trail, the full story will come into focus.
Most predatory accounts are following a large percentage of young kids, and if you are unsure, the hashtags they follow are more than telling. Unfortunately, they aren’t breaking any rules at this time, so reporting gets little results. I hope this will change, but we don’t have to wait for Instagram to be better — we can make it better.
Step 4: Recognize “Ghost Accounts”
This was the category that I didn’t immediately see as a threat. I had a few ghost accounts (no profile picture or posts) following me in the beginning, and never looked into them. These accounts often follow inappropriate hashtags and kids. They can also have telling descriptions: “I like little girls” was a description on an account that was following a nine-year-old brand rep. Some of the blank accounts might not provide any information; I now just block any blank account that try to follow me. They are not adding to my community, and you can’t see what their intentions are.
Step 5: Repeat As Your Account Grows
Rinse and repeat – it can be time-consuming, but actually do it. Once you have completed steps 1-4 you are going to be more aware of the issues, so you will now notice when you get a little notification of a new follower. It is still important to go through the steps again as you gain more followers and your alerts get flooded with even more notifications.
As a brand or an adult managing a kid’s account, it can give you a false sense of protection. When I first began to look into this problem, one thing that kept me confused was why these predators continue to like, comment, and follow these accounts of young girls. There is no reason for them to interact as they can just lurk in the background, but they continue to engage. The obvious answer was that they are looking for more; they want a relationship.
As a parent I know that I will not be able to protect my kids forever. One day they take a phone to a sleepover and have their Instagram available — that is the opportunity these accounts are just waiting for, a time when they can talk and send photos/videos directly to your kids. What I didn’t understand when I started was that predators also “Like” your photos as a way to find other account that “Like” young kids. They then reach out to each other and begin sharing photos and interacting. It is so easy to stop your account from becoming a breeding ground for this behavior; simply block and report.
I ask you to think about who is following you. Do they represent you, or are they putting your child or other children in danger? Your association, even an indirect one, can be dangerous. The influence you have comes with responsibility. You are the gate between your child, their followers, and other kids who are looking up to you. Please help close the door and stop predators from slipping into your followers, and then sliding into a child’s DM to begin an inappropriate relationship with them, sending explicit photos and messages. With technology, our kids don’t have to leave the house to be abused.
Here is what I am asking:
· Models, clean up your followers and don’t be afraid to see your follower number drop. New followers will come, and more than make up for any that you are losing. Also, brands don’t want to advertise to predators.
· Brands, look at the influencers you choose, and who is actually following them. An account with 40,000 followers is not that great if it is mostly predators. You have the power here and can help these young accounts take their safety seriously. Find accounts to best represent your brand.
· Instagram, please help us find ways to report a predator that looks at the account as a whole, the images it posts, and the accounts and hashtags that it follows. These predators are destroying your community.
During this quarantine, all our kids are spending more time online. But unfortunately, these predators are doing the same. These predators pose a real risk. According to Thorn.org, the United States is one of the largest producers of child sexual abuse material in the world. To make matters worse, currently Instagram, like many platforms, claims to have limited resources to manage and review accounts.
We are all influencers every day, but our actions online have an enduring impression. I challenge everyone to appreciate the power they have to affect our online community and make it safer for all our kids.
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