These days, internet safety is as big of a concern as stranger danger for parents. We watch out for predators, cyberbullying and even exposure to illicit websites. Few of us, however, worry about memes—but perhaps we should. South Carolina mom Jennifer Jones was heartbroken when she learned that a photo of her 4-year-old daughter Sullivan with Hillary Clinton was turned into a cruel, politically charged meme.
Little Sullivan had dressed as her political idol last Halloween and was able to take a picture with Clinton during a 2015 campaign stop in Charleston, South Carolina. During the photo op, the former first lady even remarked that Sullivan looked like a future president (she was carrying a little bag that said "senator's briefcase" on it). It was a special moment and the photograph was a cherished item in the child's room. But a year later, it became the source of stress and grief for Jones.
Someone copied the image from the Clinton campaign Flickr page and turned it into a nasty anti-Hillary ad. It read: "I AM FOR WOMEN'S RIGHTS!" at the top. Then halfway down the photo, it accused Clinton of accepting money and refugees 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."
By the time Jones found out about it, the image had been shared thousands of time on social media. She was in shock and disbelief.
“I felt like I failed her,” she told the Washington Post. “As a mother, your job is to protect and fix things, and I wasn’t able to fix it. I’ve never felt so low in my life with this image being out there that I had no control over.”
She was able to trace one photo to the "Men for Donald Trump" Facebook page. Jones begged them to take it down. They refused until the page started receiving dozens of emails from her friends. Still, the meme was being circulated on many other sites.
To Jones, the effort to rid the internet of the image seemed hopeless until she posted her dilemma on Pantsuit Nation, the Facebook group of nearly four million Clinton supporters. She asked if members could help her report the image. Soon, her inbox was overloaded. She received contacts for the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and a message from Shaun Kozolchyk, the San Francisco director of development for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Kozolchyk, who has two daughters of her own, contacted a colleague who works on cyber-hate issues and verified that the Clinton campaign held the copyright to that photo. That meant any use of the photo without their permission was against the law. The ADL sent out takedown notices to the sites that originally posted the image and soon it disappeared from internet.
In the end, this wasn't just a win for one family. After sharing the outcome with Pantsuit Nation, others started to reveal similar stories of their children's photos being tuned into nasty memes. They once thought there was nothing they could do about it. Now they have hope.
Jones was interviewed on CNN December 5 and said that what happened made her feel violated and helpless when she first saw the photo turned into a meme.
"I've always heard that once things are on the internet, that they're there forever and there's nothing you can do," she told CNN. "But I was determined—even if it was just me alone—to get it removed."
And now, she feels empowered.
In an updated post on Facebook, Jones wrote: "We mustn't be silent and let these inhumane monsters steal our treasured photos. The gratitude I feel is unbelievable. If my daughter's photo had to be a momentary sacrifice for the greater good, then I'm OK with it. One day she will know how this sweet, treasured photo helped spark a movement to take back what is ours."
If your child's photo is used without your permission and turned into a meme, you can contact your local office of the Anti-Defamation League for assistance.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jones