This morning I received a message from a friend alerting me that her words had been lifted by a well-known site. I read her piece about rage and the dark side of yoga weeks ago and it was so personal and intimate, yet universal and powerful that it stayed with me for days. Then there it was today — so many of her original ideas — but this time with someone else’s byline. Plagiarism is not a new concept, but with information as accessible as it is online, opportunity is greater than ever.
Images are even more susceptible than words. Perhaps you saw the recent picture of “two moons” in the sky “picture” meant to replicate Mars and its close encounter with Earth. Thanks to my biology major of a husband, I know the truth is Mars will never appear as big as our moon, not on any August 27, not this year, not in 2287, not in 2003 when the online hoax first started. Yet every year since then the false promise is perpetuated, perhaps because we think the picture is pretty and we don’t really care if it’s true because no one is staying up until midnight just to see it.
Social media has driven the game of deception to a whole new level. Even if you haven’t seen the eerie documentary Catfish, you may have heard the term. Urban Dictionary.com gives the following definition and example:
A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.
Although it was reduced to a mere line of text flashed right before the credits ran, I wondered deeply about Aimee Gonzales and how she felt having her picture all over this movie when she hadn’t consented to its initial use. And I wonder what her rights were to say no to the documentary even if she wanted to.
When I started this blog I had to answer some big questions for myself as to what I felt comfortable sharing online. Personal stories were completely open. Identifying information, especially about my kids, was completely closed — no real names, no school information, and no more than a very general indication of where we live. After all, we live in NYC, which is a wonderful and exciting place that can also be dangerous with thousands of strangers moving by every single day. I might be going overboard, but when you start a blog you have to make these decisions in a vacuum and you kind of just have to go with it.
Despite having seen the movie Catfish well before starting this blog, I was somewhere in the middle about pictures. After all, as much as I think my kids are the most adorable in the world, they aren’t models. Since I was more concerned with their personal safety than their likeness being shuttled around, I didn’t think there was much harm.
Until one day, they were catfished.
To be fair, a woman very innocently commented on a picture of my kids captured on Humans of New York in which she shared a story about when her son chose to get a pink cast, like my son was wearing in the photo. However, like a game of telephone, this story and picture became so intertwined that other sites were saying the commenter was the same as these children’s mother. It was infuriating to me. That picture of my kids turned up everywhere and I had absolutely no control over it.
They were even made into a meme:
In the end, there was really nothing I could do about it. Except, of course, write about the experience. I love when people ask me where I get ideas for blog posts. My real life is full of them!