Social Media Nightmare

PADUCAH — Most parents have lots of photos of their kids on Facebook and Instagram, but are you unintentionally putting your children at risk every time you share one?

The FBI reports at any given time there are around 750,000 child predators online, and they could be sifting through your photos.

This social media nightmare became a reality for one local mom after photos of her 10-year-old daughter ended up in the hands of a potential predator.

“I go to sleep at night, and I picture him liking my stuff on Facebook,” says the local mother. “I just feel violated and hurt.”

She’s used Facebook since high school; that was until some photos from her private account went public.

“I got a phone call from Homeland Security, and he wanted to meet with me,” she says. “He handed me a stack of pictures, and they were of my innocent 10-year-old daughter.”

The mother says federal agents found the photos while investigating a Marshall County man accused of child sex crimes.

The man happened to be the mother’s former co-worker. They were friends on Facebook, and that’s how court documents say he got the pictures of her daughter.

“It was just everyday pictures like at her father-daughter dance, swimming, Halloween pictures and our trip to Nashville,” says the mother.

She says federal investigators told her the man was using the Kik Messenger app to share the photos of her daughter with other potential child predators.

“He had been talking about her on the internet,” says the mom. “Sexual things that he wanted to do and that he had an obsession for her. It was almost like it was a nightmare.”

“It’s probably happening more than we’re aware of,” Grace Stewart says.

Stewart is the intervention program director at Lotus, formerly known as Purchase Area Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center. She says this nightmare could happen to anyone. “So, what they’ll do is they’ll take these photos, whether it’s a friend or someone that they’re connected to, and they’ll post it on a site next to things that would be considered child porn,” says Stewart.

“The thought of him sitting there and saving all her pictures every time I upload them is just sick to me,” says the local mother.

After talking with Homeland Security, the mother tells Local 6 she logged into her daughter’s Facebook account and says she found messages from that man. “He started waving at her in messenger,” she says. “Then in August he tried to talk to her, and it just continued.”

The mother says her 10-year-old got another message from the man’s account — a picture of his penis. “Thank goodness she didn’t see it,” she says. “She hadn’t logged into that Facebook page in years.”

However, the damage was already done. Photos of her 10-year-old daughter are now on the internet for everyone to see.

“I don’t know if her name is out there, or what pictures are out there, or who all in this world knows about her,” says the local mom. “Whenever we go out in public, I feel like everybody is staring at my kids now. I can’t get it out of my head.”

The man accused in this story is facing separate federal charges for attempting to transfer obscene material to a minor and for possession of child pornography. Court documents say the man is from Benton, Kentucky. Documents show federal agents began investigating him after he sent naked photos to an undercover officer posing as a 12-year-old girl.

There’s no word yet on if the man has been charged in the case involving the local 10-year-old. Because of that, Local 6 is choosing not to identify him at this time.

The easiest way to protect your family on social media is not to post anything. Stewart suggests using email or text messaging to share photos with your friends and family. If you can’t stay away from social media, Stewart says set your account to private and then go though and delete friends or followers you haven’t talked to in a while. Remember your profile picture and cover photo are both public.

Stewart also suggests setting up Google Alerts using your child’s name. That way, if someone mentions your child online, there’s a better chance you’ll be notified.

To report a suspected predator or missing child, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or click here.