A TikToker warned of a growing trend involving child predators who use artificial intelligence to turn photos and videos of kids into explicit content.
Posting imagery of children on social media can invite “digital kidnappers” to steal their likeness and use them in exploitative AI-generated videos, Alex Hoffman said in a viral TikTok video.
“Digital kidnapping is when somebody steals the photos of your minor from the internet, usually a social media platform, and either pretends to be the child or pretends to be the child’s parents,” she said. “Oftentimes digital kidnappers will take normal photos of a child on the internet and alter them to look explicit or show the child doing something inappropriate.”
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“Digital kidnappers can also take photos of a child and make them into an inappropriate video using AI materials,” said Hoffman, a law student who has worked with the government investigating online sex crimes against children.
In June, the FBI warned that crimes involving AI-altered explicit images, including those of minors, are on the rise.
“Use discretion when posting images, videos, and personal content online, particularly those that include children or their information,” the bureau wrote, warning the images could be used in sextortion. The FBI describes sextortion as a crime that “involves coercing victims into providing sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves, then threatening to share them publicly or with the victim’s family and friends.”
There were over a dozen sextortion-related suicides in 2022, according to the FBI.
Meredith Steele, a 35-year-old blogger and mother of two, stopped posting pictures of her children in June 2021 after she discovered a fake profile was publishing images of her children. She found that the account featured over 30 unaltered photos of her family.
“It was absolutely horrifying,” Steele told SWNS. “The kids had new names and new identities.”
She said she “freaked out” and removed “everything” from her account showing her children.
“This has changed my mind about sharing my stuff online,” she said.
At any given time, there are 50,000 predators seeking to exploit children online, the Department of Justice estimates. Additionally, one-in-five children receive an unwanted sexual solicitation online per year.
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The best way to avoid digital kidnapping is to not post images of children online at all, Hoffman said. (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)
Reports of “Online Enticement of Children for Sexual Acts” have grown by 82% since 2021 and 113% since 2020, according to data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Its CyberTipline received over 32 million reports of suspected child exploitation in 2022, a 9% increase from the year prior.
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Even private social media accounts should be careful when posting pictures of children, Hoffman warned.
“Really monitor your followers and make sure all the photos of your child are appropriate and have no chance of being taken in an explicit manner,” Hoffman said. “The only way to completely eliminate the risk of digital kidnapping is to not post any pictures of your child.”
Hoffman did not respond to a request for comment.
Brittany Kasko contributed to this report.