A teen “sexting” ring out of Virginia was uncovered this week by law enforcement officials working in conjunction with federal investigators. NBC News on April 10 called the multifaceted online scheme, run via the photo sharing site Instagram, a “parent’s worst nightmare.”
Over 100 teen girls from Virginia were targeted, and well over 1,000 nude and semi-nude photos were being passed around. The girls, some of whom were as young as 14, were involved and complicit in the sexting group.
Some of the teenage suspects who were sharing the photos could be charged with felony distribution of child pornography – a charge that would carry a sex-offender designation. However, officials said the crackdown is not aimed at registering hundreds of teens as felony offenders, but rather to bring the matter to the attention of the parents.
“Our goal is not to go out and label 100-plus teenagers as sex offenders,” Maj. Donald Lowe of the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office said. “What we really want to do is bring this issue to parents' attention,” adding that charges could be filed if investigators find evidence of adults knowingly participating in the sexting ring.
The teens created and used specific hashtags so that those within the ring could find and access the photos. Police sais that in some cases, the teens were not granted access to the hashtags until they first “initiated” themselves into the ring by agreeing to share a photo of themselves.
According to Instagram guidelines, accounts found sharing nudity or mature content will be disabled.
“If you wouldn’t show the photo or video you are thinking about uploading to a child, or your boss, or your parents, you probably shouldn’t share it on Instagram. The same rule applies to your profile photo. Accounts found sharing nudity or mature content will be disabled and your access to Instagram may be discontinued,” says Instagram.
Ecanadanow.com discussed how the sexting ring came to the attention of authorities:
It may be that the digital age and power of social networking take some teen antics to an exponential level previously unheard of by parents. Late last month, a mother began to suspect something was amiss with her daughter’s computer activity specifically with her Instagram account. What she found led her to file a police report. In the end, officers busted up a ring of over 100 girls from both middle school and high school posting graphic nude images of themselves.
Deputies said girls were involved from six Virginia counties – Louisa, Fluvanna, Orange, Goochland, Albemarle and Hanover – and at least 25 cell phones and tablet devices have been seized by officials, reports the Washington Post. The oldest teen involved thus far is said to be 17-years of age, which puts all of the children into a minor offender status.
The sprawling sexting ring involved some nude photos, but officials said many were not “sexually explicit,” but would still be considered “inappropriate or provocative” – such as teen girls in their underwear.
Police are still investigating, and no arrests have been made thus far. Lowe said the Sherriff’s Office is trying to stress personal accountability o the part of the teens and their parents.
“We're trying to save these teens from themselves,” Lowe told NBC.