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‘Instagram moms’ are facilitating paedophiles — report

Young girls are being exposed to a dangerous online world, sometimes by their own parents. Credit: Getty

February 26, 2024 - 10:00am

The New York Times has a new deep dive into the world of “girl influencers” on Instagram. Reporters Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Michael H. Keller examined some 5,000 influencer accounts — and found links to 32 million male followers. Accounts managed by parents, typically mothers, wind up interacting with predatory men who want access to their daughters. “[W]hat often starts as a parent’s effort to jump-start a child’s modeling career, or win favors from clothing brands, can quickly descend into a dark underworld dominated by adult men, many of whom openly admit on other platforms to being sexually attracted to children,” Valentino-DeVries and Keller conclude. 

While some girl influencers bring in six-figure earnings, most of the accounts which the reporters investigated earn little to no money at all. Some mothers express the hope that Instagram will open up opportunities for their daughters, launching modelling careers or helping to pay for college educations. But these uncertain benefits come with alarming — and entirely predictable — risks. 

Meanwhile, the mothers featured in the story come across as 21st-century “pageant moms” who sacrifice their daughters’ childhoods on the altar of objectification and hypersexualisation. But the access “Instamoms” offer to their offspring is far more intimate and insidious — from selling subscriptions to exclusive photo and video content to offering private chat sessions with their daughters. Some even auction off their girls’ used leotards to “fans”. 

These mothers are not so naive as to be blind to the risks they court — how could they be, when creepy comments and direct messages mixing enticements and threats abound? — but they cannot seem to forfeit the attention their daughters receive. The mothers appear to be experiencing a dangerous entanglement of objectification and identity, as though their daughters were mere extensions of themselves. 

On social media, every eyeball counts, no matter who is watching or why. These women cannot bear to tear themselves away from the dangerous audiences they’ve cultivated, even as their daughters are shunned by classmates (“‘We can’t play with you because my mom said too many perverts follow you on the internet’”), traumatised by law-enforcement investigations, and warped by self-objectification. 

One mother, “Kaelyn”, observed that her daughter, now 17 years old, has “written herself off and decided that the only way she’s going to have a future is to make a mint on OnlyFans”. 

Another mom, “Elissa”, said, “I think they’re all pedophiles” and “disgusting creeps”. “[B]ut she nonetheless keeps the account up and running,” Valentino-DeVries and Keller report. “Shutting it down, she said, would be ‘giving in to bullies.’” 

Kaelyn described herself as “stupidly, naively, feeding a pack of monsters” and said that “if I could go back, I definitely wouldn’t do it.” But there’s a “but”. “But she’s been doing this so long now. Her numbers are so big. What do we do? Just stop it and walk away?” 

The obvious answer to the question this mother poses as an impossible quandary is: yes! Warnings about social media’s detrimental effects on children in general and girls in particular continue to multiply. Last year, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy cautioned about the links between social media use, depression, anxiety, body-image issues, and self-harm, amounting to a “profound risk of harm”

Social media companies, desperate to hold our attention, insist that safe use is possible, giving off strong “more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette” vibes. But some researchers disagree. “The medium is the problem,” according to Jon Haidt, who recommends no smartphones before high school and no social media before age 16. 

The New York Times provides clear evidence that “parent-managed” accounts are not safe for kids either, offering girls up to sexual predators and warping their developing sense of self. The idea that a 17-year-old would see no future beyond continuing to sell her image and access on OnlyFans is heartbreaking. That her mother recognises this and still cannot bring herself to “just stop it and walk away” is maddening. Apparently, some parents need a prescription to stay away from social media, too.


Eliza Mondegreen is a graduate student in psychiatry and the author of Writing Behavior on Substack.

elizamondegreen

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Nell Clover
Nell Clover
4 months ago

In the 1990s in the area I grew up in the red light district had increasing numbers of minors being traded. When the police and social services eventually moved in to break up this tragedy, it was invariably mothers and other women, “madams”, who were managing the girls. The madams were cast as victims and that was that. But these were adult women facilitating unspeakable crimes against in many cases their own children. In the UK there are many dedicated services to help parents get their children out of such misery, but these women decided to perpetuate the misery for their daughters. I can only offer one explanation for this: normalisation can make good any situation no matter how awful.
Social media and media in general now connects us all to every human extreme imaginable. I am sure this exposure lowers our expectations of what the good society look like. It normalises our view of what once would have been beyond the pale, and allows us to come to accept the unacceptable.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
4 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Where was this ? It wasn’t Bradford was it ? Because I read a report about this in the papers in 1978; girls pimped from care homes etc etc all corroborated by Barnardos and the NSPCC.

It’s no wonder a certain type of Muslim man thought they could get away with it (not making excuses for the bas*ards of course).

An acquaintance of mine, a female social worker in Bradford, said exactly the same as you while pointing out to me one day that I had an overly rose-tinted view of women and what they were and weren’t capable of.

You can’t help smelling the class bias here, although it’s happening all over the place now. Even back then, they were poor white trash and nobody seemed that bothered what happened to them.

El Uro
El Uro
4 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

The Internet is a place where humanity is what it is, and not what it wants to seem

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
4 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

Your best post ever.

El Uro
El Uro
4 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

This is an inaccurate quote from my self-description on a football website. I wrote this about 16 years ago. It took about 10 minutes, I was younger, and, I’m afraid, smarter. Below you can see a more detailed and accurate quote. I hope you will enjoy. I like this text, and even today I am ready to subscribe to every word. So…
.
I never tire of being amazed at the thick stream of anger, hatred and envy spilling out onto the World Wide Web. I don’t want to believe it, but it seems that in it the human is what he is, and not what he wants to seem. This scares me a little and, partly, disappoints me in the sense that very often (too often even for me, a skeptic in this sense!) a human does not look like an adornment of this planet.
.
And yet, for those who find this interesting and not too pretentious, I recommend reading the good poem below. It influenced me, in the game of poker for sure, see lines 17-20:
.
Rudyard Kipling, “If-”
.
…familiar text follows

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

Though the reverse is also true! Social media is a place of pretence.

El Uro
El Uro
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Agree

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago

There has always been way too little discussion of how many followers of the “influencers” are just men who like looking at pictures of young girls/women. TikTok is even worse.
The girls love to see their likes and follower counts swelling but are wilfully blind to the nature of the followers and the so-called “interactions”.
And what’s really interesting is that in the online world which rewards this kind of behaviour they just get increasingly extreme in their behaviour, competing to attract eyeballs.
I see it at the gym. I’ve been a regular gym-goer since I was a teenager and now, half a life time later, it’s astounding to see what the youngsters are wearing. They’re all taking pictures and videos of their workouts of course.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Be careful if you glance at them though! I forget what the term is for it, but there are a particular crowd of ‘influencer’ female types who go to the gym in skimpy, barely there or extremely tight, clothing and work out in semi-explicit poses. They then film the men who are watching them and post the videos to ‘shame’ these men for ogling. The ostensible reason for this is to call out sexism at the gym, “I can’t work out without some perv looking at me!” however, a number of these women seem to do it to attract followers themselves and forward watchers to the Only Fans pages they have.
Not to mention, from the a couple I have seen, it isn’t obvious that these men ARE perving on these women.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
4 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

A woman wearing a thong leotard at the gym is “dressing to please herself.” If a man is caught looking at her, he is a “disgusting pervert.” Nevertheless, the attention is gratifying to some, and a photo catching him wins up-votes on her account.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

Ah, yes. The classic “Look how she is dresses. It’s her fault she was raped” Men can’t control themselves when women work out in leotards, so it’s her fault when perverts harass her.
—Kimberly

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Nobody said that! And leotards? Who works out in leotards nowadays? Have you just woken up from a coma?

Max Price
Max Price
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Yawn…

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

You know full well that is not what is being said here.

David Morley
David Morley
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The girls love to see their likes and follower counts swelling but are wilfully blind to the nature of the followers and the so-called “interactions”.

I think you are being naive. I don’t do social media, and certainly not TikTok – but even from the stuff that gets thrown up on YouTube it’s clear that a lot of these women know precisely who their audience is. It’s not that middle aged men are uninvited interlopers in their “thong try on” or “latest secretaries outfit haul”.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
4 months ago

Zuckerberg and the like should be locked up for crimes against humanity. In the cells next door should be all those who still think it was right to close down schools and confine kids to their bedrooms with only a smart phone for company.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
4 months ago

Have you seen that mockumentary ‘Bruno’ by Sacha Baron Cohen ? He sets up a fake audition in LA for children and gradually introduces their parents to more and more shocking potential film scenarios involving their kids. You can literally see them squirm but they can’t resist saying yes to whatever it is – truly shocking to watch.

It strikes me that some of the trans parents are just the same; Kellie-Jay Keane does a brilliant takedown of the parents of ‘Jazz’ Jennings who seem in total denial about the pornification of their child whose life and ‘trauma’ they’ve basically hawked to the highest bidder.

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Jazz Jennings is a car crash I cannot look away from.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

He is a victim of child abuse.

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I entirely agree.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
4 months ago

“Some mothers express the hope that Instagram will open up opportunities for their daughters.” Much more likely that they’re living vicariously through them.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
4 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

Did you notice the author’s saying as much herself?

The mothers appear to be experiencing a dangerous entanglement of objectification and identity, as though their daughters were mere extensions of themselves.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I think this is a phenomenom that needs more attention. Not just in these scenarios, but in terms of parents, often mothers, who use their children as props in their social media and activist lives. I thinking of parents of trans kids etc.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
4 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

….opening up their daughters for opportunities seems to be the result, if not the intention.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
4 months ago

A new for of Munchausen’s? This group is ominously parallel to the mothers, and it’s usually relatively affluent women, helping to fuel the trans craze. How about just letting your kids grow up and find their own footing?

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
4 months ago

If your mother acts as a high priestess of Mammon, it is not about your future college education. Let’s give it its proper name. It is pimping of minors. No social media under 18 will protect the minors. Put those mothers in jail and throw away the keys. You want a solution for the problem? Do as I say.

William Amos
William Amos
4 months ago

Ashtoreth or Baal perhaps, rather than Mammon, but the point certainly stands.

John Riordan
John Riordan
4 months ago

“But the access “Instamoms” offer to their offspring is far more intimate and insidious — from selling subscriptions to exclusive photo and video content to offering private chat sessions with their daughters. Some even auction off their girls’ used leotards to “fans”. ”

Jesus wept. If this is going on, then it’s not simply a matter of restricting children’s social media access, there are clearly a lot of adults that also need to be stopped using it too.

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
4 months ago

And yet the thrust of the party of Davos is to strip ever more power from parents, to enable Big Tech — and to push ever more intrusive surveillance state control over individuals, even as the states themselves have less power and resources to secure the social compact. Homeschool! Keep devices out of the hands of children for as long as possible. Abolish the school boards and LEAs. Empower small schools run by old-school heads with parents. And vote for national/populist parties with the balls to take on the social media companies (oh and send Nick Clegg to jail or permanent exile in San Francisco)