Shannon Nicole's children are stunning. Both she and her husband are pretty easy on the eyes, too, so the genes were clearly stacked in the kids' favor. Many people thought likewise and enjoyed each new image she published on her parenting blog. One reader enjoyed Nicole's baby photos so much, however, that she downloaded them and used them to create a fake family online. That's when Nicole's blog became the conduit through which one of her worst fears was realized.
The debate over content creator's rights online roars above the din every now and again. But when that stolen content is a picture of your child, the stakes seem higher than just a missing byline. For parents who discover someone has taken their kid's photos, kidnapping seems like a perfectly logical second step. In my mind, a Liam Neeson-style violent rescue mission would naturally follow.
Nicole originally created her blog for her out-of-state family. She said, "I was concerned mostly about posting private details about our lives and I didn't give a whole lot of thought to posting pictures at the time." She tried her best to visit each new follower's site as hers quickly gained popularity beyond Tumblr, which is how she stumbled upon her own daughter's face smiling back at her from a stranger's Facebook page. Odder still, the stranger had "renamed" her daughter and even posted photos of Nicole's home-cooked meals with captions claiming credit.
Out of concern for her family, she deleted her blog. "I had no clue who this person was and the idea of them taking my daughters pictures and making all these detailed posts like she was their kid was downright creepy," Nicole said. "My impulse was to protect my daughter and I thought back if I had ever posted any details about where we lived."
Jared McGuckin writes about fatherhood at Dad's Eye View. He recently found someone reposting photos of his children and took to his blog asking people to refrain from doing so. When asked, he couldn't put his finger on the exact harm done. "The idea of a stranger [reposting] those pictures just makes me uncomfortable," he said. "In the end I think it comes down to poking holes in a false sense of control."
Okay, look, I have a really awesome wallet. Seriously, I get compliments on it all the time. I like showing it off, but I'm not going to tape it to a signpost on Hollywood Blvd. and expect it to remain untouched. Now, I am not suggesting your child resembles or even has the qualities of a wallet, save for your baby's ability to help you rack up credit card debt. I'm just saying that despite all attempts to quell it, people simply take things from the Internet. On that topic, the genie is out of the bottle, the cats can't be herded, the freaks come out at night.
So, any parent wishing to post baby photos online must ask themselves "What am I afraid of?" and "Is that worth the risk?" The former often proves hard to answer. I used to post pictures of my kids all the time because, like Nicole's offspring, my twin boys are bewilderingly adorable. Although in our family, I think most of those genes came from my wife. If someone enjoyed a photo of my boys enough to download it from my site, The Daddy Complex, and use it as their computer wallpaper, is that so bad? Probably not. In Nicole's case, the usage seemed somewhat sinister. She and her husband filed a police report, but nothing came of it. She said, "They basically told us if there were no credit cards or fraud or if we weren't threatened directly there wasn't anything they could do."
Nicole didn't let the episode deter her. She started another blog, Home Sweet Homestead, and does occasionally post photos of her kids as well as images of her husband wielding a chainsaw, which seems a good theft deterrent. She recommends using common sense when choosing what to put online. And if that's not enough, she also suggests adding watermarks to your images.
Personally, I hit upon a unique solution. When it comes to photos of my boys, I now only publish ones in which their faces are obscured or ones that show them with an adult family member. I know if someone out there in the Intertubes is determined enough, they could probably Photoshop out a grown-up or add a Tyrannosaurus Rex, for that matter. But, there's also a chance that on a computer desktop in an office somewhere, there's a big photo of my boys playing with me in the backyard. And I'm okay with that.