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What I learned the hard way: How I protect my family on Instagram

Hailey Devine with her daughter Lucy.
Hailey Devine with her daughter Lucy.
Provided by Hailey Devine

I have been a little apprehensive about writing on this topic, but I feel its important to share my experiences with the messed-up side of Instagram. I am not writing this to scare anyone. I just wish that I would have been more educated before I had to learn the hard way.

So I'm going to be short, to the point and completely transparent here. I started blogging shortly after Brad and I got married three years ago, and it became such a fun part of my life. I love sharing — sharing happiness and inspiration through my travels, family and life experiences.

As years have gone by, I have posted photos of the exterior of our house to share excitement in the building process and even exposed what city we lived to curious readers. I have posted multiple photos of my little Lucy in her diaper (etc.) because I love sharing little motherhood experiences. We would also post photos while we were on vacation. I completely put myself out there.

As my following grew, I was really naive about the messed up people on the Internet. I assumed all my followers were these cute young girls, aspiring to be videographers or waiting for missionaries. To be honest, I got caught up in the numbers, and I stopped looking at who started following me. This is where the frightening part happened.

One morning, I curiously scrolled through my new followers. It was quite the traumatic experience to see what kind of messed up and really quite evil people were following me. I was exposed to some really icky stuff on these profiles. These people were able to view every post of my home, my life and my baby.

A few days later, I found stolen photos of my little Lucy on these accounts, and they had been fooled around with by people the Washington Post referred to as Instagram users who are "creating strange fictional relationships using photos of other people’s children."

I have never felt so sick and vulnerable in my life. The scariest part is that these messed up accounts were completely anonymous. During this same time period, we had numerous girls show up at our house on different occasions that wanted to introduce themselves and get a picture. It was awful not knowing if one of these girls had stolen Lucy's pictures or participated in the inappropriate Instagram accounts. There was no way to know.

This all shook me to my core: "What have I done to myself and my family? There is no taking back what I have already exposed." I felt the urgency to move, which was so sad because I was just starting to feel settled in our new home. Every aspect broke my heart. I was being torn in two different directions.

I wanted so badly to just delete my account, but I also didn't want these bad guys to win! I felt so strongly that I wanted to be that goodness in the world! After months of going back and forth, I have decided to keep my account. With proper precautions, I feel ready to continue posting. I'm ready to express awareness about everything that has happened to me so that we can all be a little more careful here on the Internet. Here are the five questions I ask myself before posting on my public Instagram account:

1. Is this picture solely of my child and showing their whole face? Does this post of my child show innocent nudity? Be strategic about how you post about your little ones. The photos that are often stolen are high-quality shots, solely of the child looking straight at the camera. Avoid bathtub, diaper and underwear photos that show any type of innocent nudity. Photos that rarely get stolen have another person in them (for example, the mom or dad posing with the child) or where the child's face is turned to the side, and the viewer can't see their entire face. Predators are drawn to photos that they can make eye contact with their subject.

2. Does this post show that I am away from home? I would suggest to post about your vacation after you return back home. A few months ago, Brad went out of town and posted his travels. I assume that someone put two and two together, that Lucy and I were home alone. The next morning, I found big boot tracks in our snow that came from the street, past our bushes and up to our windows on two different parts of our home.

3. Does this post show the exterior or the details of the interior of my home? Keep your home your safe haven! Home owners: Get in contact with the white pages, and get your address off of the Internet so it is no longer public information. I was shocked when I Googled my name and my address popped up so easily.

4. Is my location setting on? Turn off all location settings. I thought I never had mine on and had a shocking realization that most of my pictures had the location of our home geotagged. This is how you can double-check to make sure your location is not attached to your Instagram photos: Go to profile > location pinpoint tab > edit > photo thumbnails > deselect all.

5. Is this moment too special to share with the whole world? Don't feel the need to share everything. Only post what you feel good about posting. You can create a private account if you want those photos still printed into your Chatbooks or Pickture That accessories.

I'm Hailey Devine, a twenty-four year old wife, mother, videographer and traveler. I started blogging to share my video creations, travels, and small bits of life that I find are noteworthy. My ultimate goal with Something Devine is to spread happiness through the small simplicities in life. My British husband Brad encourages me to chase my dreams, while my little Lucy keeps me grounded. Together they are my perfect balance, my inspiration and my everything.