CHARLOTTE - Six more counties are now involved in an investigation into nude photos of North Carolina high school students showing up on social media, and the state's attorney general says the problem could get worse.
A statement from the State Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday said the agency is now looking into similar instances in Chatham, Johnston, Edgecombe, Craven, Randolph and Surry counties. Investigations were already under way in Wake, Durham and Pitt counties. The Durham County Sheriff's Office reported two instances last week where girls reported nude photos of them appeared online.
"That's why we're taking this seriously," N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said Wednesday. "It is unusual to have this many in one area.
"We're getting more and more tips from people who are calling the SBI, calling local law enforcement. "We're getting tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. I fear this is not the end of it," he said.
An investigation began this month when a woman called Wake Forest police to tell them that her daughter had learned that someone had posted nude photos of her on Twitter and Instagram. The girl is now 18, but the woman said the photos were from when she was 14 or 15.
Also, an affidavit said Wake County Public School System security personnel found other Instagram accounts with photos of nude girls and boys. The security officials identified students at six county high schools.
It is a felony in North Carolina to share nude images of underage people.
Cooper also said he expects more instances of inappropriate photos appearing on social media because word of the pictures continues to spread.
"The more publicity you have about this, the more potential for people to report," he said.
Cooper said at least 37 Instagram accounts are involved, adding that he didn't know if the accounts are related. He said the situation provides parents with a chance to talk to their children about how they behave on the Internet.
"It certainly gives an opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about how easy it is for photos to spread through social media and to let kids know they need to be extremely careful about what they send to anyone," he said.
Cooper said the pictures could be the result of kids posting pictures on their own, friends sharing pictures with each other, or a couple who breaks up and posts such pictures, possibly out of anger or revenge.
"Kids are so used to using social media and are so comfortable. Pictures and comments are permanent and can be worldwide in a matter of moments, even if they don't want it to be," he said.
Another approach parents can take to avoid having unwanted items in cyberspace is to restrict their children's access to social media at night, Cooper said.
"The key word here is to be extraordinarily careful," he said.
Search warrants show authorities have subpoenaed Facebook, which owns Instagram, for user information associated with several accounts.
"This is a little bit different from their typical case," Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley said of the computer crimes unit. "They have worked other cases involving Instagram, but nothing to this level."