It’s every parent’s worst nightmare – a photo or video of your child that you post on social media ends up on a sexualized website.
Newstimesuk.com spoke to many mothers who have experienced first-hand the dark side of ‘sharing’ – the term for parents who share lots of children’s content online.
Some had their children victimized by pedophiles – who are becoming adept at technology like AI – turned into cruel memes by trolls or had their identities stolen by hackers.
Recent research shows that the average child has shared their photo online 1,300 times before the age of 13, and the ad suggests that all it takes is a photo and AI to reconstruct innocent children in ways most parents couldn’t imagine.
A new advert aimed at warning parents about the dangers of oversharing on social media was released last week, revealing the sophisticated techniques being used.
The ad revealed that all it takes is a picture and AI to ruin a child’s future. It used a nine-year-old girl named Ella as an example. This photo was used with AI to make him an adult to warn about the dangers of ‘sharing’
Leah Plunkett, author of SHARENTHOOD and faculty at Harvard Law School, told Newstimesuk.com: ‘The AI tools that now create photo and video animations to innovate in the digital world are exciting and fun.
‘They increase the risk that bad actors will reuse a child’s image to hurt and threaten.
‘More and more children are uniquely vulnerable to the misuse and loss of digital privacy because they have their whole lives ahead of them. They are at a unique developmental stage.’
Meredith Steele, from Maine, shared with Newstimesuk.com how her two children, a boy and a girl, were ‘digitally kidnapped’ in 2021.
“I didn’t want to be an Internet public figure at the start of the pandemic,” Steele said.
Meredith Steele discovers that her children have been digitally abducted in 2021. An Instagram account stole her photos and paraded her kids around as if they were theirs.
‘I posted a bunch of videos, and they blew up.’
Like most parents, Steele said she wasn’t good at dealing safely with people interested in her life.
‘The first year that I was posting online, I would share videos of what my family was doing,’ she shares.
‘You know, my kids were in the kitchen cooking or general stuff, they weren’t even part of my actual social media content.
‘There were just pictures here and there of what we were doing in our daily lives.’
However, the loving posts Steele shared turned into a nightmare for her and her family when she was informed of an Instagram account with 5,000 followers filled with pictures of her children.
“I posted a video of my family going out to dinner and tagged the restaurants I was at,” Steele said.
‘The restaurant manager sent me a message the next day. And he said, ‘There’s a page with photos and videos of you and your kids having dinner at a restaurant. And they tagged the restaurant, but it’s not your page.”
Steele found the account and saw that about six months’ worth of pictures of his family filled the person’s page.
‘They either screen recorded or saved photos from my Instagram stories and they gave my kids new names and new identities that we were doing all this, which scared me a lot,’ she said.
A daycare worker taught Vitaly and Anastasia Zadina Burstein’s son to use obscenities, which the worker recorded and shared the video online. The video went viral, essentially turning their then two-year-old into a meme
Natusha Jahm told Newstimesuk.com how her son, then seven, believed he was talking to a six-year-old girl on Telegram, but it ended up being an adult who asked her son for a topless photo.
‘I was horrified to think that a complete stranger had a bunch of pictures of my children saved on their phone and they had built this whole identity around them.’
Steele has since stopped sharing content featuring her children and now advocates the dangers of doing so.
Parents in New Jersey also experienced their own horror through a video of their son, who was two years old at the time of the incident – but they did not post the content in this case.
Anastasia Zhadina Burshteyn told Newstimesuk.com: ‘My son attended a local Hoboken daycare that closed two years ago.
‘We expressly refused permission to post his picture online, but at the time the assistant director took a video of him teaching him to say ‘F*** you’ and posted it on his personal social media page.
‘This video was picked up by a third party and shared everywhere, which is how the daycare found out.’
The video shared in October 2020 was picked up by the satirical account, turning her baby into a viral meme.
‘He was immediately fired, and the daycare worked with us to remove the re-shared videos (my husband actually contacted people to remove the videos from Twitter).’
The dark warning ad has taken off on social media, showing how the photos can be memories for parents, but they can fall into the wrong hands.
Ella’s parents appear to be participating in a social experiment – they go to a movie and are shocked to see a picture of their daughter using artificial intelligence.
While these unfortunate incidents have been caused by posts on social media, one Ukrainian mother’s story is a warning to parents about monitoring what their children are doing online.
Natusha Zahm told Newstimesuk.com how her son, then seven, believed he was talking to a six-year-old girl on Telegram.
‘One day, he said he joined that blogger’s Telegram channel. I didn’t like the idea – thought it was too early for him – but all his friends were joining that chat,’ Jahm told Newstimesuk.com.
‘There were about 1,000 kids chatting on the channel, so I thought it was just his friends and him socialising.
I was sitting in the room, he came and took off his shirt. He was taking pictures of himself and I asked him, ‘What are you doing?’
His son explains that he met a girl on Chanel who asked him for a topless photo.
‘[The profile picture] A six-year-old girl, shown from the waist up and topless, Zahm said.
‘I could tell by the style and grammar that it was an adult, not a child.’
She told her son to stop talking to the man, but not before sending a clear image to his phone.
Zahm said the adult must have stolen the girl’s photo or was chatting with the girl to take the photo.
Hackers can steal your child’s identity through photos you share online
Adult Ella tells her parents that her future may be ruined by the pictures. A future where my identity is stolen, where I could go to prison for something I would never do,’ Ella said
“This pedophile sent a picture of a completely naked girl with her legs open,” Jahm said.
‘They must have chatted with the girl and got her nude photos.
My son was next to me and saw that picture and I didn’t realize it would affect him the way it did. He felt like he was vomiting. I have blocked that user. I deleted everything.’
A case where AI was used to blackmail a teenage boy was shared with Newstimesuk.com by Yaron Litwin, who works at Canopy – a digital parenting app that detects and blocks pornography on every single website on the Internet.
The boy, who loves going to the gym, shared a picture of his bare chest on a workout page.
‘Someone could then take that picture, edit it [with AI] And come back and blackmail this teenager,’ Litwin said.
‘And when that happens, it’s very traumatic, and it’s very devastating for that young teenager. Often they are too. They will not even go to their parents. They try to deal with it themselves.
However, Ella tells her parents, who are watching horrified in the crowd, that she does not want her images to be used as child pornography.
‘Often, blackmailing involves sending overly explicit or nude images.
‘There are three things one really needs to think about.
‘A how much time they can use [a social media platform.] Two are the contents that they have revealed, and three are who on the other side, and help manage and protect the canopy and are in power.’
The ad, without consent, was created by Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s Dutch subsidiary, and details Ella’s story, which her parents have shared on social media throughout her life.
The parents appear to participate in a social experiment – they go to a movie and are surprised by their daughter’s image using artificial intelligence.
‘Using just a photo and AI, we created an adult Ella’ that appeared on the big screen in the theater.
An AI system then transforms young Ella’s image into an adult.
‘Hey mom, hey dad, it’s me, Ella,’ said digital adult Ella.
He goes on to explain how the pictures his parents shared on social media could be taken and used by anyone to create a horrible future for him.
‘A future where my identity is stolen, where I could go to prison for something I would never do,’ Ella said.
‘Imagine my credit score getting ruined dad, or my voice being copied to scare mom.
‘I don’t want to be a meme, humiliated by everyone at school.’
The clip then shows Ella’s body with a different person’s face saying, ‘You kill yourself, you lose.’
However, Ella’s final warning to her parents, who are watching horrified in the crowd, is that she does not want her images to be used as child pornography.
The movie screen shows a blurry image of young Ella that her parents uploaded to her on the beach.
The innocent image is of him floundering through the water, but a hunter took it from his parents’ social media page and uploaded it to an apparent site that has since been downloaded more than 7,800 times.
‘What you share online is like a digital footprint that will follow me for the rest of my life,’ Ella shared.
‘Please, mom, please, dad, protect my virtual privacy.’
While nine-year-old Ella may not be affected by the real world, many parents are.
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