It’s called digital kidnapping. Instagram users “roleplay” with these photos, using hashtags like #AdoptionRP, #KidRP, #BabyRP and #OrphanRP to post children’s pictures “up for grabs,” i.e., to be used to establish the identity and backstory of their “character.” For instance, in a photo that shows a full baby diaper, the user implores someone to adopt “Baby Tye,” who was “put into a big basket with his teddy, some milk and himself on the streets.”
Sometimes, it seems, people roleplay as the child, making up a backstory just for that child and interacting with others as if they were the child. But other times, they “adopt” the child to be part of a larger roleplay, with intricate plotlines and relationships. In “family” roleplay accounts, multiple people interact with each other, pretending to be couples, siblings, or parents to children, and the photos are just for aesthetics; rarely is there continuity in how a family looks. For instance, someone might post a picture of a happy-looking couple with a comment like, “This is my baby, love him so much,” to establish a romantic relationship, but post a picture of a totally different man with a child, saying, “So blessed to have such a great dad to my children.” The photos, it seems, establish the look and feel associated with characters, but it appears rare that a roleplayer uses the same real child’s photos for their entire account.