If you care for your privacy or your families identity then you’re going to want to take a few moments to learn of my personal battle with Instagram. Whether you are a parent or not, this equally applies. If you know what catfish is, then you’ll have an inkling about how this story is going to unfold…
Becoming a dad was an unbelievably exciting moment for me (almost 2 1/2 years ago now) and it triggered my dad-brain. For those of you unaware of a dad-brain – it’s a clinically-real phenomenon that involves a hormonal change in a man’s brain when he actively engages as a hands-on dad. It involves an increased release of oestrogen – you can read the full details in The Boy Crisis book.
Anyways, I pondered for many months about sharing photos of my son online and in fact refrained from sharing any photos of Finn until after his first birthday. A large part of my motivation was to protect him from identity theft and online creeps but after reading The Happiest kids in the World I decided that parenting was more about risk assessment rather than risk avoidance. After all, what are the chances of someone actually cyber stalking me and my family?
And so – the Modern Dad IG account became a place where I shared my dad-journey with my followers. Within six months I had over 10,000 followers and wanted to use my channel as a place to connect with other parents, empower men to be hands-on dads and raise awareness of issues that were important to me. It all appeared to go great and I enjoyed the online parent community. However, I haven’t posted much in the last few weeks and I’ve started the process of removing all photos of Finn’s face. Why!? You might ask. Well, I was contacted by a woman around six weeks ago via Instagram direct message – she wasn’t a follower and so the message went into Instagram‘s version of Junkmail. She said we needed to talk as someone was impersonating me and blackmailing people. After a few more messages from her by email and Facebook I wrote back but was vigilant as I couldn’t be sure of her motives or if she was legitimate.
After several messages back and forth it appears that this lady and other women have been contacted via Instagram by a man using my images of Finn and I. These women subsequently fell in love with this “person” and this then lead to a digital relationship involving written exchanges of affection and nude photos.
The guy, known as Barry Woods, from Toronto would claim that his wife left him and the toddler, and took all of their money. He then sought financial support. If the woman refused to send money he would then blackmail her and in some cases he actually sent the woman’s naked photos to her friends or family via social media. This whole situation left me feeling sick. I just couldn’t imagine someone stealing photos of my son and using them to blackmail people. I started investigating and discovered a number of accounts using Finn and I as a guise. I reported them to Instagram and they shut the accounts down. I also contacted NetSafe, which is New Zealand’s place to go for online safety. Other concerns started to arise as this lady who claimed to be a lawyer from London spoke of the mans ties to Turkey, and his his possible sympathising with particular ideologies. It is now very clear to me that there are gangs or groups of people who earn millions of dollars through identity theft and fraud. They do not care who gets hurt along the way and they operate from behind a computer screen.
A lot of my recent reading has revolved around father-involvement in a child’s life and how critical a male role model can be in a child’s upbringing – particularly for boys. Boys who are unfortunate enough to lack a positive hands-on dad every single day (or at least 50-50 shared custody with mum) are far more likely to be delinquent, end up in prison, struggle at school, suffer emotionally and struggle in relationships. In fact, boys are six times more likely than girls to commit suicide from adolescence onwards. Read more on this in Warren Farrell’s amazing book.
Initially I felt angry that a man or a group of men (although some women obviously do this too) would steal my identity and use my sons face as a method to blackmail others. But as time has passed it has led me to transform my thinking. I am grateful for the incredible community around my family, genuine love and support from real, caring people. Community, is an essential element of well-being, a key ingredient to a purposeful and meaningful life here on earth. I feel sadness and pity for the individuals who sit behind screens and steal peoples identities. These people have not experienced the love of a father that I have. These people have no experience of boundary enforcement from their fathers like I did. They did not experience honest criticism and feedback from their father when they messed up like I did. I am imperfect and I strive to learn more, improve my contribution to society and admit my inadequacies. These keyboard warriors and criminals are drawn to gangs and crime because they are so desperate for a father figure, someone to lead them. Sadly they perceive their membership in a gang as worthy, giving them meaning. But as you and I know, nothing replaces being genuine and living in an ethical way. When you are wrong, admit it. When you make a mistake, learn from it. We all make mistakes. But these followers will never become leaders to their families or communities. Instead they will continue the negative spiral of fatherhood and pass down their moral compass to their sons and grandson‘s.
I have learned from this incident and I still don’t know what shape Modern Dad is going to take moving forward. I just know that my responsibility is to take care of my family. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.
Here’s to showing gratitude to our communities. Be thankful for those whom you spend real in-person time with. Stay safe online. Stay vigilant. And applaud those dads whom you see doing a great job. For it is the greatest and most rewarding part of a man’s life.
Check out this article on staying safe online.