‘Straight pornographic’ Authorities investigating Instagram accounts with photos of local students
LANDIS — Authorities are investigating several social media accounts that claimed to show photos of nude or scantily clad girls from local schools.
Some of the girls were identified as middle school students, and among the photos were some a police detective calls “straight pornographic.”
All three were accounts on Instagram — a photo-sharing site — and all were taken down in less than a day after being created. It’s a problem apparently not restricted to Rowan County. Law enforcement agencies elsewhere in the state are investigating similar sites, and some have asked the State Bureau of Investigation for help.
In Rowan, the pages’ names included derogatory terms for women.
Landis Police Detective Roger Hosey said he learned of the accounts after being inundated with emails, calls and messages from parents.
The accounts had what appeared to be photos of young girls. Some showed only the girls’ bodies from the neck down, but some showed their faces. In some, the girls wore only bras and underwear, but in others they were nude.
Although many of the photos appeared to be self-taken, it’s not clear who submitted them to the site.
Instagram, whose main feature is captioned pictures, is owned by social media giant Facebook.
Similar to Facebook, an Instagram account is public unless made private by its creator. Followers are able to view pictures, read accompanying captions, comment on those pictures and “like” the photos.
The accounts being investigated asked followers to submit photos, list the grade level the student was in and the school the student attended. Some pictures were labeled indicating the students attended South Rowan, Carson and East Rowan high schools and Kannapolis Middle School.
The first account was brought to the Hosey’s attention Feb. 14. He received a phone call about the page from concerned citizens.
“Some of the pictures were straight pornographic,” Hosey said. “Others were scantily clad photos.”
He believes the girls probably took the photos of themselves then sent them to someone else, and that person submitted them to one of the Instagram accounts. It doesn’t appear the girls took the photos with the intention of them being published.
The first photo appeared to be posted around 7 p.m. Feb. 14. By midnight, the account had been removed its creator had issued an apology, Hosey said.
Hosey sought a search warrant Feb. 14 requesting information from Facebook about the accounts. He is awaiting a response.
The other two accounts were created Feb. 15 and removed that night.
It is not clear how many actual victims there are, but the detective encouraged teens who believe their pictures were posted to contact him or their local law enforcement agency.
Anyone who posted pictures of underage teens or received the pictures could be guilty of a felony if convicted in court. Hosey said there are two state laws addressing certain images disseminated via social media.
The law says material that depicts sexually explicit nudity of a person younger than 18 is considered sexual exploitation of a minor. The punishment for a conviction ranges from three months to 15 years in prison. The other law pertains to cyberbullying. In the instance of cyberbullying, someone posts or encourages others to post online material that, in this case, would be private, personal or sexual information that pertains to a minor.
Hosey advised teens to not share inappropriate pictures of themselves with anyone.
“Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever, and that person you send it to could share it with others,” he said.
It is not clear how widespread this issue may be, but N.C. Department of Justice spokeswoman Noelle Talley said the SBI Computer Crimes Unit is working with multiple law enforcement agencies to investigate inappropriate photos of underage North Carolina students found on Instagram. To date, the SBI has identified more than 30 accounts as potential violators, Talley said.
Working with the SBI investigation are police departments in Wake Forest, Cary, Raleigh, Durham and Havelock, and sheriff’s departments in Chatham County, Pitt County, Surry County, Edgecombe County and Randolph County. The SBI is also looking into similar cases in Johnston and Craven counties.
The investigation began this month when a woman called Wake Forest police to report her daughter had learned someone posted nude photos of her on Twitter and Instagram.
The Durham County Sheriff’s Office reports two instances last week where girls reported nude photos of them appeared online.
Search warrants show authorities have subpoenaed Facebook for user information associated with several accounts.
Anyone with information regarding inappropriate pictures of local students posted to the Instagram accounts can contact Detective Capt. Roger Hosey of the Landis Police Department at 704-857-2129.
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