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Mom finds toddler's photos were turned into disturbing Internet memes

Bethany Ramos is an editor, blogger, and chick lit author. Bethany works as Editor in Chief for Naturally Healthy Publications.

Internet creeps steal a mom's photos to make offensive memes of her little girl

We've been warned 100 times not to share (and over-share) pictures of our kids on social media, but most parents think, "What's the worst that can happen?" An Alabama mother found out the alarming answer to this question after she discovered that her toddler's photos had been stolen and recirculated on Facebook.

Like every other proud parent, Ashton Hamner of Hamilton, Alabama, had posted photos of her 16-month-old daughter Lennox to her personal Facebook page. It wasn't until Hamner was scrolling through Facebook later that she found the same photos of her adorable daughter — Photoshopped with offensive messages and turned into Facebook memes.

More: Facebook found my mother in 2 days

The pictures of young Lennox were altered with cruel messages, like, "When you find out your baby has cancer and realize you're gonna get your old life back," and, "When your baby has cancer, don't love it, dump it on Nan."

One photo even said, "When the cancer treatments are stopped but they've turned your baby retarded."

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Once the mom in this case discovered the offensive images, she did everything right. She reported the memes containing stolen pictures of her daughter to Facebook, and they were immediately taken down. Hamner has also changed her Facebook privacy settings so that Lennox's photos are no longer visible. While it's acceptable and even encouraged to share photos from other users on Facebook, it's illegal to alter an image and repost to another profile or Facebook group.

More: 10 Reasons your baby needs its own FB account

Hamner is heartbroken to see her toddler bullied on Facebook, and she has every right to be.

But this isn't the first time we've seen Facebook photos stolen from parents for the purpose of pure entertainment. Just last year, parents of a sick child were shocked to find their baby's photos stolen from Facebook and used to raise $10,000 for a fake cause. Another mother found her 4-year-old daughter's photos making rounds on Facebook, when she was "digitally kidnapped" by a man pretending to be her father. Teens and tweens have been known to steal cute baby pictures from social media to create a virtual fantasy life with baby role-play.

If this isn't an alarm bell for parents to increase their Facebook privacy settings, we don't know what is.

There is a reason this breakdown keeps happening again and again. Most of us made our Facebook profiles back in the early days, as many as 10 years ago. And boy, have things (and especially Internet rules) changed since then. And then we grew up, and we had kids and we completely forgot about our original privacy settings. The default Facebook privacy setting we signed up for in 2005 is most likely the privacy setting we use today.

More: My son is a meme, and there's nothing I can do about it

But if you are a parent who is sharing pictures of your child on Facebook — as it is safe to assume that 99 percent of parents do — this is the time to tighten the privacy controls on an account you may have created a decade ago. The Facebook Help Center makes the process extra easy for you:

  1. Click the triangle icon in the upper-right corner of any Facebook page.
  2. Click "Settings" from the drop-down menu.
  3. Click "Privacy" in the left side bar.
  4. Choose a preferred setting under "Who can see my stuff?" (Allowing only Friends to see posts and images is recommended.)

This is going to solve the majority of our image-stealing problems right here. And in the event that a random Internet troll is able to steal a picture of a child, despite stringent privacy controls, it's important to report the stolen image to Facebook immediately so that it can be taken down, as Hamner did.

As horrible as this story is, it's easy to think that it couldn't happen to you or your kids. But given the fact that Facebook is ever-popular among parents, and that over 11 million young users have quit the site since 2011, the risk is real. No, everyone on Facebook isn't out to get you, but taking basic privacy precautions just makes sense. Like you would buckle your child's seatbelt before driving, take a quick second to change your privacy settings. You won't regret that you did.

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