A 3-year-old girl has unknowingly sparked a mass social media movement of mothers deleting public photos and videos of their children online after online sleuths spotted a worrying trend.
Makayla Musick is one of many mothers who recently informed their followers that they were done sharing their children’s public content online.
“I just saw the posts on Tiktok and was absolutely appalled by the story and decided I had to protect my daughter,” she told Fox News Digital.
The 3-year-old TikTok star at the center of the movement, with the username @wren.eleanor, has more than 17 million followers on the short-form video app run by his mother, Jacquelyn. The account consists of seemingly innocent photos and videos of Wren — a toddler with blonde hair and rosy cheeks doing normal toddler activities — as well as sponsored content.
But Wren’s mother began deleting content once her followers and other TikTok sleuths noticed some videos were recorded by other users in numbers that raised concerns. The “save” feature allows users to tag videos, so they’re easier to find and view.
One user, @hashtagfacts, noted that a video of Wren wearing a cropped orange shirt has been posted over 45,000 times. A video of Wren eating a hot dog has been recorded nearly 375,000 times. She also highlighted disturbing comments on Wren’s videos and pointed out that popular searches on Wren’s behalf included phrases such as “Wren Eleanor hotdog” or “Wren Eleanor pickle”, meaning users searched for frequently videos of the three-year-old eating a hot dog or pickle. Similar popular searches for Wren appeared on Google.
And not only can videos and photos be recorded on TikTok and other social media accounts, but predators can also use a smartphone’s screen recording feature to record or capture content directly to their phone. without being traced.
Since users took notice of the anomalous activity on Wren’s account, some moms, like Musick, have taken it upon themselves to delete photos of their children on public social media profiles.
Musick said that while she has nowhere near following Wren Eleanor’s account, it’s her job as a mother to protect her daughter from any potential online predators.
“Wren’s story has brought a lot of light to all sick people around the world,” the mother explained in an interview with Fox News Digital. “So I have decided to remove my own daughter’s pictures from anyone who is not close family or close friends. My duty as a mother is to protect her from such things. I took the initiative to delete her photos before something like Wren’s situation happened to my own daughter.
Musick was both surprised and unsurprised by the concern over Wren’s account, as she “always knew there were sick people in the world doing this stuff.” She looks at social media in a different light now and “won’t post” her daughter’s content on social media “until she’s much older.”
Calahan Walsh, executive director of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and son of “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh, told Fox News Digital that while social media has become “such a ubiquitous part of our lives,” people who use social platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and others “get sucked into this false sense of security” because of the positive interactions they have with friends, family, and strangers who follow them. their accounts with good intentions.
“But parents need to understand that when you get this information out to the public, you’re opening up your world to the whole outside world,” Walsh said. “And anyone on these social media platforms – especially if your, if your page is public – anyone around the world can see and consume the content that you put there and…”
Online predators, often anonymous and hard to track, seek out content that typical users might not realize is harmful because it “doesn’t go straight to that dark place,” Walsh explained.
“That’s what these predators are after,” he said. “And because you put that content on social media and you share it, it’s not like they’re the ones creating … that kind of content. They just consume it.
Once predators get away with consuming material online, it’s not out of the question for them to start targeting children directly online or in person, according to NCMEC’s executive director.
One of the first rules NCMEC teaches kids who are just starting to use the Internet through its NetSmartz program is to never share too much personal information. Personal information can include everything from a child’s location to seemingly innocent photos and videos of a child that online predators around the world – who are not necessarily subject to US laws – use for their own purposes. harmful.
Predators who find accounts belonging to minors can coerce those minors into sharing photos and videos of themselves, then trick them into starting to take and share more proactive content over time, often by getting impersonate other minors.
“Everything is done over the phone. And these phones accompany our children in the bedroom at night and in the bathroom,” Walsh explained. “It’s not the family computer in the living room. And so whether it’s content that parents post or parents just allow their child to create any type of content themselves, it’s very dangerous because we see individuals who attack children who will try to coerce that child into making sexually explicit, self-generated content, and send it to that exploiter. »
It “opens the child up to even more types of exploitation, grooming, luring, sextortion, online, seduction – all of those things,” he said. And once the grooming begins, so do the threats. What may start as a predator asking a child for a photo can turn into a predator asking a child for several inappropriate photos or videos using threats. They then collect and share this content “like playing cards”.
“It can start with taking off a shirt, you know, an item of clothing,” Walsh warned. “But once this predator has this child and says, ‘Hey look, I saved this image, I’m going to share it with all your friends, all your family. I’ll ruin you, embarrass you at school. Your parents are going to hate you. No one will be your friend anymore unless you send me… this image of you doing X, Y and Z, a build up of what the original content was. And these children are now locked in the situation where they are afraid. They are afraid of being unmasked. They are afraid of being embarrassed. And so they will comply with the demands of that person extorting them and provide them with additional content.
Parents should be aware of what predators search for on public profiles and avoid posting the types of content that bad actors consume, without consequence, on social media. They also need to teach their children about the dangers of sharing too much personal information with strangers online, according to Walsh.
“Think twice. Trust your instincts. Understand that there are wicked people. Try to protect your children,” he concluded.