Andrea Van Wagner, a California mother of two is warning other parents about the dangers of posting pictures of children online after she found photos of her son a disturbing Instagram page. She posted a public warning on Facebook so other parents know that this is happening and to help protect themselves and their children to ensure it doesn't happen to them.
Van Wagner is a photographer who specializes in taking pictures of children and sporting events. It was after she posted a photo of her own 9-year-old son Cole at a wrestling match, showing the boy in his wrestling singlet, as well as some of his teammates that she tells TODAY Parent she noticed the Instagram account "ilikestrongkids50" was following her.
A few days after requesting to follow the private page, Van Wagner was accepted, and notice the page was full of pictures of children from different sporting events. "It was creepy,'' she told TODAY Parents. "There were like 4,000 pictures of all these kids, all very athletic with their shirts off and some doing modeling poses or flexing their arms. The pictures themselves individually weren't bad pictures, but when you see someone who had a collection of 4,000 in one spot, that is disturbing."
Included in the pictures were some of Van Wagner's 9-year-old son. "I saw a bunch of people liking his picture and they were all older men,'' she said. "I went on their pages and it was like fetish pages and other weird stuff."
She said she messaged the owner of the Instagram page about why there were so many pictures of random children, all in various states of undress on their Instagram page. "His response was, 'I don't post pornography,''' she said. "I asked him why he started the Instagram account, and then he immediately blocked me."
Van Wagner took a screenshot of the account and posted a warning to other parents on her Facebook page. "There almost 4,000 pictures of kids (A LOT OF WRESTLERS, DANCERS, GYMNASTS, MMA, JUI JITSU) between 6-13 years old with their shirts off, or close to, showing their muscles," she wrote of the site that began to follow her. "AND two pictures of my son just flexing his arms (with singlet on). These pictures were not re-posted, but were downloaded THEN posted so the owners of the pictures would never know." She went on to write that she has "contacted National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reported to Instagram, writing a report for the police, and telling everyone that I know."
Although Van Wagner was told by her local police that nothing could be done legally since the site didn't feature any pornography, over 100 parents had complained to Instagram, which told TODAY Parents that they removed the page "for violating our policies, specifically using our products with the intention of sexualizing minors.
"I'm just letting other parents know because you will see some hashtag their kids in photos with things like #sexykid or #childwithabs, and parents might not think anything of it, but it just gives pedophiles more access quicker to the pictures they want,'' Van Wagner said. "Parents should just have an awareness and be looking through who is following your page."