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Mother issues warning after Instagram account steals children’s photos

Meredith Steele, 35, blogged online about her family until she discovered a profile had stolen their life

Lydia Patrick
Thursday 15 December 2022 15:54 GMT
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Mother issues warning to parents after family 'digital kidnapped'

A mother has stopped posting photos of her children online after her family were “digitally kidnapped” by an imposter who was posing as her.

Meredith Steele, 35, blogged on Instagram about her life with husband, Mark Steele, 35, and children, a daughter aged 11, and a son, nine.

The content creator from Portland, Maine, posted photos about about their daily life and soon amassed thousands of followers.

But she was horrified when she discovered a fake profile had cloned her photos and was using them on an account with thousands of other families.

Meredith was shocked to see photos of special family moments she’d shared on her own account had been reposted with different names and captions by a stranger.

Every photo the mother posted was used on the other page, showcasing fake family outings and school runs to thousands of people.

Meredith immediately reported the account to Instagram, but claims they failed to remove it. She then blocked the page so it could no longer have access to her content, before deleting all traces of her children from social media.

Meredith says it made her think about “mummy blog culture” and oversharing online.

She has still got active social media accounts with 918.2k followers on her TikTok but refuses to post her children, or let them on social media.

Meredith immediately reported the account to Instagram, but claims they failed to remove it (Meredith Steele/ SWNS)

Meredith said: “It was absolutely horrifying. The kids had new names and new identities.

“It was so upsetting. I freaked out and removed everything. I felt like such a bad parent.”

She continued: “They made their own captions and made their own lives.

“It was like they were playing with Barbie dolls but the dolls were my kids.”

Meredith was unaware of the imposter account, which had thousands of followers, until a friend found it.

The mother was out to dinner to celebrate one of her children’s pre-school graduation when she posted a family photo and tagged the restaurant as the location in June 2021.

She was friendly with the staff, having worked there years before, and a waitress who was browsing through photos tagged to the restaurant spotted the same image of Meredith twice.

Meredith wants parents to be conscious of what they share of their children online (Meredith Steele/ SWNS)

Minutes after the real Meredith had posted the photo, the fake one copied it, wrote their own caption about going for dinner and posted it tagging the same location.

The waitress showed it to Meredith who uncovered an entire account, with more than 30 photos of her family.

Meredith says she was a victim of ‘digital kidnapping’, a phenomenon whereby people steal your online content and create their own pages with it.

She added: “These people have emotional investment in my family and on a lot of these apps it’s hard to take down fake accounts.

“I don’t know who it was. It was a real violation. I would share pictures of hikes and family dinners, it wasn’t anything I felt was invasive.

“I want to protect other people from feeling like that. These little kids can’t consent to be on that level of exposure.”

In digital kidnapping, suspects will steal the identities of their victims and live out a fake life online, in a concept known as ‘role-playing’.

She said: “This changed my mind about sharing my stuff online.

“Mummy blog culture normalises oversharing intimate personal details of your kids and they aren’t old enough to agree or disagree with it.

“My kids and their lives are not content, and now they aren’t allowed on social media.”

Now, Meredith will only share the back of her children’s heads online and will never tag her live location, only sharing where she was at least a few hours after she has left.

She no longer grants permission for school, summer camps and any extra-curricular activities to take photographs of her children.

“I’m an adult on social media and I get my feelings hurt every day, people are awful online.

“You will never see my kids faces on my social media again and it’s helped me have healthier boundaries.”

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