Saturday, December 10, 2016

How to Fight Back When You Become an Out-Of-Control Meme


You've got the "Success Kid," Gavin, "First Day on the Internet Kid" and many more awkward teens rounding out the ever-growing collection of memes featuring kids. They go insanely viral due to funny faces, gestures and expressions that describe a universal sense of frustration, achievement or utter despair.
But sometimes, these viral photos are snatched from unknowing users' social media pages and used for nasty and offensive messages. When this happens, life can turn ugly real fast. 
A photo of Hillary Clinton with a 4-year-old lookalike at an October 2015 campaign event in South Carolina started circulating around the web after the photo made it onto the "Hillary for America" Flickr page. The image spread as a meme, but not as a funny or relatable one. Instead, it was twisted from a joyous moment meeting a political hero to a disturbingly dark and vicious sentiment.
Anti-Clinton groups took the photo and plastered a message in a "meme font" above the girl's smiling face and over her body, according to the Washington Post. The message read, "I am for women's rights!", before, in the same font, accusing Clinton of taking money from countries "that would mutilate this girl’s genitals, marry her to a Muslim pedophile, and stone her to death if she doesn’t wear a bedsheet."
Sullivan's mom, Jennifer Jones, told Mashable, she had tried in vain to remove the meme. Stressed and upset, she went directly to some of the social media pages spreading the image, on sites such as Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but struggled to get the meme taken down. "I’m just one little person," she said. "It's time consuming to go one by one."

After the election, Jones decided she couldn't do it alone and reached out to the secret Facebook group, Pantsuit Nation, to ask for help to remove it from sites. "I didn’t think I had a chance in hell in winning this," she said, but through group connections she got in touch with the Clinton campaign and the Anti-Defamation League.
She quickly found out that when scrubbing something from the internet, "successes are few and far between," but she persevered and the upsetting meme of her daughter is mostly gone. "It’s incredible," she said.
That photo is one of many memes featuring young people, usually taken from parents or kids themselves posting images on social media or photo sharing sites. In the latest #Pizzagate conspiracy theory fiasco, fake news stories about a completely fabricated child sex trafficking ring claiming to involve Hillary Clinton and campaign staff based out of a Washington, D.C., restaurant featured photos of real children in the made-up news. 
This practice of grabbing photos of kids and repurposing them is more common than you'd think, according to Jonathan Vick, the Anti-Defamation League's assistant director of the cyberhate response team. The group helped Jones take down the offending memes from as many corners of the internet as possible.
But fighting cyberhate involving children can feel like a Herculean task. "Nothing is ever completely scrubbed from the internet," Vick said in a call to Mashable, noting that petitioning a website to take something down is not always effective.
Jones' case with her young daughter is one of many the organization works to remove. "Parents are terrified when pictures start showing up in different places," Vick said.
Just this week a Rhode Island dad was horrified when his son's image was used as a joke meme on a Twitter account and other places. Although the photo of his son eating a donut did not include anything particularly offensive, he told his local paper that he didn't want his son's image circulating without his permission. He has posted removal requests on Facebook accounts and asked family friends to also petition sites to take down the image.
"Children are not fair game."
Vick is trying to spread a message that "children are not fair game" in the meme world, especially children with special needs. He said offensive use of these children's photos is prevalent and made to be funny because they look different. 
Jenny Smith from a small Alabama town knows too well how unforgiving a place the internet can be toward a child with special needs. 
After posting a photo of her son Grayson, now 3 and a half, on a Facebook page detailing his serious medical problems including occipital encephalocele, craniosynostosis, micrognathia, thumb hypoplasia, a cleft palate, hypospadias, congenital anomalies of the lower limbs, an atrial septal defect of the heart and other anomalies, his photo was used in a cruel meme mocking his looks. Smith discovered the meme in November, but it had already been online for months.
"I was just heartbroken," she told Mashable in a phone call. "Why in the world would somebody do that? I never really thought people would be so cruel."
Grayson has continued to defy his terminal diagnosis, so Smith is confident she can beat this. She has slowly been contacting sites to have the image removed, but she's faced a lot of resistance with claims of first amendment rights. Jones, the mom from the Clinton meme, has been in touch to connect Smith with more resources.
But Smith says since the photo is from her own social media post she knowingly took this risk. She is determined to keep Grayson's story up online  — that's how her family receives support. "I don't want to be self-consumed with this meme," she said, adding her family isn't going to back down and neither is her son, who is tech-savvy and knows how to navigate internet-enabled devices.
"I want him to know what people say can be cruel," she said. "I want him to have self-confidence. If I hide that from him, it’s not going to benefit him."
Vick said memes like Grayson's are the worst offenders, but harder to pull down. 

The "Success Kid" meme in various forms.
The ADL isn't after Gene Wilder-type memes or even messages made by parents and families themselves, which the group leaves alone. Take the "Success Kid," now 10-year-old Sam Griner. His mother said in a message to Mashable that over the years the image of Sam as a baby with a clenched fist is mostly used in fun, light-hearted ways, but her family has had to deal with their fair share of meaner comments and abuse.  
Gavin, an expressive 6-year-old from Minnesota, also has a huge online following thanks to photos and captions his uncle and other family members put on the internet.
In a phone call with Mashable, his uncle, who goes by his online name Nick Mastodon, said most of the memes are "in good nature," like the Time "Person of the Year" parody, which Mastodon said is "celebrating him." He added, "You put these things out in the world and you hope people use them for good."
"In the current climate, you’re seeing behavior on the internet less tolerant and more exclusionary."
But like anything, things can turn dark quickly. After the election, someone Photoshopped an image of Gavin drinking out of a cup to drinking out of a bottle of Clorox, alluding to him killing himself. "Depicting him in such a horrible way was pretty unsettling to me," Mastodon said.
He called out the person posting the photo and flagged the image as harmful on Twitter. These are usually the tactics he uses to attempt to control any abuse, and usually it works.
"In the current climate, you’re seeing behavior on the internet less tolerant and more exclusionary," Vick from the ADL said, such as more memes about politics and ethnicity. 
Getting the offending images off the internet entirely and keeping them off is not easy and usually involves bringing in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for using content without permission. 
"It's a lot easier to create these things than to get rid of them," Vick said.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Thank You For Being Such A Jerk Mr. Trump

We  may actually owe Donald Trump a thank you for being a jerk.

Donald Trump's rhetoric during and since the campaign has certainly emboldened haters. There is no doubt about that. The hate incident statistics and clear increase in online incivility speaks for itself.

However, it is very unlikely that these are newly minted haters. Quite the opposite. Many of the so called "alt-right" leadership and core members are  white supremacists that have been known for years. Similarly, emergent vocal anti-gay, misogynist, anti-immigrant, fake news and anti-Semitic social media trolls are familiar names or closely connected to obvious networks of haters. For bringing them together and bringing many more to the surface, we owe Trump a thank you.

It seems that Trump's election has managed to prove the full extent of bias, hate and distrust in our country. Unfortunately, he harvested that cesspool for votes instead of using it as an example of what we need to overcome to be a better nation.

Don't look a gift Trump in the mouth. We now have a very clear picture of  the task ahead of us. We now know that we need to teach the children better about others. We need to work harder at listening to our neighbors and we have to learn to disagree without jumping straight to hate.

We all now have evidence of what many social minorities have long told us; the hate never went away, it has been below the surface the entire time. But it is not as simple as minorities being targeted, i goes both ways. It is sharp and smart. It is blunt and stupid. It takes no prisoners. It does not sleep and it is created much easier than it can be destroyed.

We see the hate and it scares us. It scares us that it is there and that it has been there all the time. But we see it, and acknowledging the problem is the first step in dealing with it. Deal with it we must. Although these are not newly minted haters, they will eventually inspire a new generation of haters. We also have the seriously bad habit of responding to hate with hate. The hate we experience can make us haters ourselves. An endless path we have possibly been following all along.

I suspect hate cannot be stopped. It is way too useful to the wrong people. It can be made weaker and smaller. Hate grows strong with fear. Fear grows in darkness and isolation.

There always victims, targets or agendas to hate because no sane person hates reflexively. Look to the victims, not at the hate. Reach through the hate. Treat hate like fog and it becomes insubstantial. Treat victims as friends and their fear and darkness is mitigated. Reach and hold on to the things that we share instead of fixating on the things between us. Hate is something small which looms large, we can make it smaller. If it wasn't for Donald Trump, would we be wiser today about such things?

It is critical to embrace our shared qualities and use what share as the to talking about our differences. Once we start thinking this way, we may find we like it.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Today We Won a Battle Against Hate

DECEMBER 1, 2016

By Shaun Kozolchyk
Development Director, ADL San Francisco Regional Office
There are days when working for the ADL—coming face-to-face with so much hate and vitriolone wonders, how do I get through today?
Then there are other days when good things happen.
A few days ago. ADL was able to strike a blow against hate in a measurable, concrete permanent and HOPEFUL way.  We do that every day, behind the scenes, but on this day we did it in full view, and got amazing results.
But let me back up: A few weeks ago, I saw the most jarring Facebook post by a woman whose beautiful four-year-old daughter had been violated publically and horrifically.
You see: A lovely picture of her daughter with Hillary Clinton had been turned into a hateful meme spread by bigots.
I believed ADL could help.  And we did. Now it’s gone viral — and the focus of an inspiring news story in The Washington Post.
The following is Jennifer Jones’s story, in her own words:
I took my daughter to meet Hillary Clinton.  We were blessed to have an opportunity to get a photo of her with Hillary.  The adorable photo went viral and received a lot of positive attention from major media outlets. 

And then, what happened next was a shock: what became a new treasured family heirloom was turned in to a hateful image by the “Men for Trump” Facebook page.  I found out through a friend of a friend who’d actually posted the meme on her page.  My friend was outraged, asked her friend to remove it and notified me. 

I immediately wrote to the administrator of the page and told him I did not give permission for her image to be used—she’s 4 years old—and to take it down. He would not.  I then asked my friends and family to write to him and request the same. Eventually he agreed and took it down after the pressure of multiple emails.  I thought it was over. 

Then a woman I know Googled my daughter’s name and found that in fact, the meme/s had been shared on every major social media site tens of thousands of times.  When I learned that, I was devastated. I felt like I failed my child.  I sat in my car and sobbed.  I’m a mom. I fix things and I didn’t know how to fix this. I felt helpless. 

And then, my mama bear took over. This was a direct hit on my child and I knew what to do. I reached out to my Facebook community and asked for help.  I received messages from hundreds of strangers offering help and resources—many people suggested I get a lawyer, but I don’t have the financial resources to do that. 

One message among the hundreds stuck out: the one from Shaun at the Anti-Defamation League.  She told me she thought she could help and introduced me to her colleague, Jonathan Vick, ADL’s Assistant Director for Cyberhate Response.  After I spoke with Jonathan, I connected him with Hillary Clinton’s official photographer and the next thing I know, the meme is gone! 

When the ADL followed up to let me know, I felt total relief.  I feel ready to celebrate! I knew of the ADL before, but I didn’t know they do this! I’m in love with the ADL and am willing to do whatever they need to help others in my position!
I am grateful I work for an organization that stands up for all of us. Every day.  An organization that has experts working on so many fronts—in this case, copyright law, that we can be fast on our feet.
Jonathan knew that in the case of a copyrighted image, the copyright holder (Hillary Clinton’s campaign) can file a copyright takedown notice VIA counsel and have a hateful image removed.  We facilitated that process, and we won.

Thank you, Jennifer—for inspiring all of us to fight—and to the ADL for equipping us for the fight!