Andrea Van Wagner is a professional photographer and mom.
And after she noticed a “like” from a stranger on one of the photos she took of her son, she investigated. What she found was disturbing, and now she is warning other parents out there to keep their children safe on social media.
According to CBS 8, as a business owner, Wagner has an Instagram account that promotes her business. Not only does she posts samplings of photoshoots she has done in the past, but she also posts photos of her children.
Over the summer, Wagner took a photo of her 9-year-old son Cole after he had just competed in a wrestling tournament. Cole was flexing in his singlet, and Wagner said, “he was really proud.”
As CBS 8 reports, not long after Wagner posted the photo of her son to her social media account, she noticed that another account with a strange name had liked her picture. The account mentioned “liking strong boys.”
Wagner admitted that she was horrified when her follow request was accepted, and she found thousands of photos of prepubescent boys, two of them her son. She explained to Love What Matters:
“There’s nothing wrong with these pictures alone, but there is something wrong with the context. There were over 4,000 posts of kids with their shirts off. The girls had bathing suits, but 90% were boys from the ages of 6-12. Then, I noticed that my son’s picture from the tournament just a couple days before, as well as the picture I took of his team, were on there. I checked to see if there were any descriptions on these pictures and there were none. No back links to the original posters. My son’s pictures (and another teammate of his) were downloaded and posted on the page.”
Wagner then decided to dig into the account’s followers. As it turns out, she found even more accounts similar to the one that liked her picture.
The mom explained:
“This is where I wanted to throw up. They were mostly older, adult males with fetish pages. These men are following thousands of little kids’ accounts (mostly prepubescent boys) and commenting some vile things.”
That’s when she reached out to the original account, asking him to remove the photos of her son. The accounts owner replied, “I’m not posting pictures of pornography,” before it blocked her entirely.
Wagner then reached out to Instagram, through her son’s account, to get the account taken down entirely. However, Instagram replied, saying that the account didn’t violate their community guidelines and left the account running. She even contacted the police, who said they could only take a report because the photos were not considered pornography.
She told Love What Matters:
“I knew it was not going to go anywhere, but I wanted to say that I filed something. I did something. The police officer came to my house, got my statement. I sent him all the screen grabs and information I had. “
It wasn’t until CBS 8 also reached out to Instagram that it was decided that the account does, in fact, violate their guidelines. The account was taken down, only to have him return days later:
“He just messaged back, ‘oh, well. I just made up another account. You cannot stop me. You cannot stop me and there’s so many other people who do the same thing.’”
According to the Child Rescue Coalition, there are specific hashtags that predators search for on social media to find images of children. Some of those hashtags include “kid shower, potty pants, and naked kids.” And as Christina Macone, a cybersecurity expert with the San Diego Police Foundation, told CBS 8, it’s not illegal for people to screenshot those photos and share them:
“These [types] of pictures specifically are not considered child pornography.”
Wagner said she wanted to share her story because she wants other parents to be mindful of the types of photos they share of their children because you can never know who is looking at them on social media.
She also said that many of those types of accounts use the terms “young boys, strong kids, or cute boys” in their username, and it’s important to report those accounts that may have malicious intent.