Somebody impersonated my child on Instagram - this is what I learned

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

When I discovered someone had made an Instagram account impersonating my 12-year-old daughter I was horrified.

At first I was angry as I thought she'd set-up an account behind my back, despite being under the age of 13 and knowing she was not allowed on Instagram, but then I took a closer look.

Staring back at me on my phone was an image of my child, her full name, year level and the school she attended, all things the kids have been warned not to do online – never identify personal details about yourself.

The image of her was one she would never use and we later worked out had been copied from her school's website.

The account, which had about 50 followers, had only posted one image, not one she'd taken, and the caption was not language she'd use.

Then it struck me – someone had created an Instagram account impersonating my child. I immediately felt sick.

Over the next day, my husband and I both followed the account and direct messaged the impersonator demanding the account be deleted. They didn't respond.

So, we took matters into our own hands and contacted Instagram directly, through the help function.

In case you ever need to do it yourself this is how you find it. First, click on Settings, then Help, then Report a Problem. When the pop-up appears, click on Spam or Abuse, it will then take you to a list of problems including Impersonation Accounts and Underage Children.

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We took the Impersonation Account route that required us holding up formal identification of myself, and my child, in a photo and then answering a few questions.

I thought it was quick and easy, so when the response came back that they couldn't remove the account I cried.

But I didn't let it stop us.

We asked trusted friends to also report the account. And then my husband and I both reported the account for being underage.

Again, Instagram replied it couldn't take any action. This time I sent a scathing reply. And they asked us to once again provide formal identification.

I felt so powerless and worried for my daughter.

While we waited, I was advised to reach-out to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and they were straight onto it. The government organisation is Australia's leading authority on online safety and has lots of resources for parents, teachers and kids.

You can also report cyberbullying, image-based abuse, and offensive and illegal content directly to them. It has the powers to identify and request social media sites remove illegal online content and shut down accounts or risk fines.

Their communication with us was both positive and supportive. I finally felt like we had someone in our corner – that something would be done.

And then, thankfully, Instagram got in touch (through it's owner Facebook) and informed us they had removed the account.

We were all so relieved.

We still don't know who created the account or why, but we do know what the impact has been. The experience was soul destroying for everyone, particularly the target.

My daughter, doesn't want to talk about it, instead she wants the whole thing to just go away. And I don't blame her. However, I'm nervous this will happen again and again - if not to my children then other children.

Cyberbullying has now touched our family and there are a lot of kids being targeted.

According to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, since the cyberbullying scheme was established in July 2015, it has dealt with over 1,200 cyberbullying complaints. So far, this financial year, 14 per cent of cyberbullying complaints have related to fake and impersonation accounts.

"Cyberbullying can have devastating impacts on young people, sometimes affecting their emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing," a spokesperson from the eSafety Commissioner said.

"eSafety's role in helping get the material removed from social media sites or apps quickly helps limit the re-victimisation and humiliation that may occur if the post or account were to remain online.

"Most importantly, remain calm, listen to your child without judgement, and let them know you will be there to support them through this."

eSafety recommends four simple steps parents can take to help support their child and minimise the harm:

  • Report the cyberbullying material or impersonator account to the social media service where it is occurring.
  • Collect evidence of the cyberbullying material.
  • If the material or account is not removed within 48 hours, make a report to eSafety.
  • Block the offending user.

If your child is struggling to open up, or you notice any changes that concern you, for example their eating and sleeping habits, or if they appear unable to concentrate or make decisions, encourage them to speak to a professional at Kids Helpline – 24/7, free and confidential counselling at 1800 55 1800 or www.kidshelpline.com.au