Katarina Strode’s kids were the stars of her social media content.
An aspiring lifestyle influencer, the married mother of two began sharing images of her children — a 4-year-daughter and a 3-year-old son — to Instagram and TikTok while they were in utero.
After giving birth to her tots, she regularly posted snaps of them playing in the park or frolicking in swimsuits on the beach, thinking friends, family and her more than 40,000 digital followers would enjoy scrolling through the wholesome images.
But the blond’s kiddie shares came to a screeching halt in the spring of 2022, when a fellow mommy vlogger discovered that a stranger online had been saving footage of her son to their phone and reposting the material to phony TikTok accounts, pretending to be the tyke’s parent.
Learning about that woman’s experience was a wake-up call.
“It literally sent a shiver up my spine,” Strode, 25, from North Carolina, told The Post. “It never dawned on me that people out there, who might mean my kids harm, could be saving pictures of them onto their phones and doing whatever they want with them.”
After confessing her fears to her husband, an active Marine whose name she chose not to disclose, Strode spent hours archiving and deleting every post that featured her kids’ names and faces.
It was no easy feat.
For years, Strode was an enthusiastic part of the widespread “sharenting” phenomenon. Over 75% of moms and dads share their children’s likeness online, per a 2021 survey conducted by Security.org. (The poll also found that eight in 10 parents have friends or followers on social media that they have never met in real life.)
Now, Strode is on one of the 10 million parents under the trending TikTok hashtag KidsOnline voicing her remorse about unintentionally leaving her brood vulnerable to tech-savvy predators.
She regrets ever sharing her children’s images in the first place, but the troubled mom is thankful she scrubbed the images from the internet just ahead of the artificial intelligence boom.
“This AI stuff is terrifying,” said Strode.
Diffusion models, a new AI tool, use real-life pictures from the internet, including shots featured on social media sites and personal blogs, as the training data to generate new images based on a user’s desires.
According to a recent analysis from the Washington Post, AI-generated images of children engaged in sex acts could potentially disrupt the central tracking system that blocks child sexual abuse materials, or CSAM, from the web. The disruption in the system could make it difficult to determine whether an image is real or generated by AI.
“Creeps can literally take any photo and generate a kid’s picture into anything — even what they might look like as an adult,” Strode groaned. “It’s crazy.”
In a trending clip on TikTok, a mom known as @OGBri420 said “social media is not a safe space to be posting photos of your kids,” and reposted a public service announcement that offered a detailed look at how virtual villains are able to inappropriately manipulate a child’s image within seconds.
In May 2021, YouTube star Shyla Walker, 25, best known for sharing content centered around her daughter, Souline, 3, decided she’d no longer be showing the toddler’s face on any of her high-traffic platforms, telling Insider: “I wish I would have known sooner how innocent things can be used in not-so-innocent ways.”
Walker added, “I would post innocent photos of her in a bikini, and now I just cringe when I look back because I feel I was essentially just feeding her to child predators.”
Former mom influencers aren’t alone in their oversharing shame. A-list parents are plagued with guilt, too.
Hollywood heavyweights such as Ayesha Curry, 34, a mom of three and the wife of Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, as well as actress Anne Hathaway, 40, and pop singer Pink, 43, have openly expressed contrition for spotlighting their kids on the internet.
“If we had known back in the day just how chaotic it would make life, I don’t think we would’ve done it,” Curry told Insider, before confirming that her babes are no longer in the public eye.
Yamalis Diaz, a child and adolescent psychologist with NYU Langone, tells The Post that rather than wallowing in regret, parents should focus their energies on teaching their children about social media safety.
“We are going in a dangerous direction with how much kids are being posted and the kinds of post that parents are putting out there,” said Diaz.
“But if you’ve already posted things about your kids that you fear could ultimately do some damage, you can have a developmentally sensitive conversation with your child and admit you’ve made a mistake,” she assured. “Telling your kids that you shared something about them with tons of people online, and explaining why that was wrong, can help them understand the dangers of the internet.”
Strode hopes her children learn from her missteps.
“I want to educate them about some of the harmful people and things that are out there,” she said, noting that older generations weren’t able to give her and her fellow Gen Zers and millennials a forewarning about the pitfalls of cyberspace — mainly because they didn’t have to contend with it.
“Our parents put our pictures in a scrapbook, we put our kids on Facebook and Instagram,” said Strode.
“Yes, that gets you likes and clicks, but what impact will that have our kids’ safety?”
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