“We have become a nation of Sharecroppers who stopped watching what we are sowing.”
A few years ago I saw a picture on Facebook that disturbed me for several reasons. In the triple side by side grid photo, a little girl around the age of 4 or 5 posed rather provocatively in a Burberry Print bikini. One pose saw her hands on her hips facing the camera. Maybe it could slide under the radar as innocent. In another one, she was bent to the side, hands on her knees and hips with her toddler behind poked out to the opposite side. This is classic for club photos of grown women standing in front of Hennessy and Cadillac backdrops; not little girls on social media. I don’t remember the third pose but I do know at least one of the three included a purse, sunglasses and duck lips. If they were pictures of an adult, they would have been met with ‘you so sexy’ accolades in the comment section.
There’s something wrong with an adult posting that type of photo of a child. Others were just as outraged as I and shared the offense in disgust – when it hit my feed, it had 100s of shares.
Two different views, one common action: they all shared the picture. The anonymous little girl’s reckless photo has traveled all over the United States through the cyber underground.
A few days ago, I saw a picture on my feed of a little boy who looked about eight or nine years old. His hair was incredibly long and hung well past his shoulders. He stood sullenly in a salon with his hair silk pressed and part down the middle. His face cradled embarrassment in a lullaby. The step by step grid photo showed superb skills on behalf of the beautician but a complete disregard for the esteem and respect of this child. I could be reaching with an assumption on how he felt, but his expression suggested humiliation. Again many people shared his humiliation to their newsfeed and groups in both support and disapproval.
And that is where my problem lies. What responsibility do we have as social media addicts and users when it comes to sharing pictures of anonymous children who we deem are so beautiful, or worse being exploited? People are gathering town hall meetings in comment sections and public threads about children they don’t know and have never met. These kid’s humiliation and over-sexualized photos are hitting feeds all over the country while we click share and then debate how they were raised and use their picture(s) as exhibit number one. Are we not part of the problem? When we share their photos aren’t we aiding to their embarrassment or making their photos more accessible to the perverts we know are on FB trolling? Why have we grown so comfortable with sharing someone’s child who we aren’t even familiar with?
Even in cases of times where information is included on pictures, the wider the share circle, the more the information gets cropped out. #Sharecropping. For research purposes, I tried to track the root of the long haired little boy’s picture. Three shares backwards and I still had not found its origin. Every post was a reshare with mostly personal opinions as the caption. All it takes is for one person to click download on ANY picture and that picture can take a life of its own that is far removed from the person and the reason it was posted. Take the little Somali girl with the stunning diamond eyes, silky hair and luxurious Sepia skin. I admit upon seeing her one is instantly hit with the desire to reshare. Her picture made the FB rounds a few years ago and recently resurfaced in a side by side grid with an updated photo of her still striking beauty. But, as usual, nothing goes along with it, however, there is a story behind the beauty.
Her name is Safa and she lives in the Djibouti Balbala (Somalia) slums. Some of the photos we share in fascination with her face were actually taken during casting for a film called Desert Flower. She plays a young ‘Waris Dirie’ in the autobiographical film about the American Supermodel (Waris) who was circumcised at age three and is now a UN spokeswoman against female genital mutilation. Safa’s parents planned to have her undergo genital mutilation but with convincing from Waris, along with her foundation, they signed a contracted in 2008 guaranteeing Safa would be spared from the horrendous practice. According to published reports by the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning, 93% of women and girls undergo genital mutilation. None of this information accompanies the photos we share while marveling at her facial artistry.
The current trending baby is dancing to Watch Me Whip in her front facing carseat while her mother drives and records video at the same time. She moved her tiny body to the beat of the music and even tried to sing along with it one part. Her left arm was quietly wrapped in a cast. There were hundreds of shares of the precious video; but she has a story as well. 21 month old Breanna suffers from a genetic disorder called Osteogenesis Imperfecta which causes her young bones to be brittle and break, sometimes without reason. In the comment sections, you can find everything from people discussing how cute the video is to people accusing the mother of harming the little girl due to the cast. (There is also talk about the front facing carseat and what concerned me the most, the videoing while driving). The day after the video was posted Breanna suffered two broken legs and was pictured in a full lower body cast. There is a GoFundMe to help cover some of the costs of Breanna’s medical expenses (she’s had 15 fractures in her 21 months of life) but it’s hardly ever attached to the video shares. If you’re lucky and looking for it, you might find it buried in the comments (I did).
In no way am I trying to be killjoy for cyber fun, however, I think we have crossed too far over the edge. Often times (or double digit shares later), we are so far removed from the six degrees that separates us and the originators of the post that we should be ashamed to freely share someone else’s child’s picture, especially if there is no accompanying commentary besides whatever the public has added. Would we want strangers sharing our children in two piece bikinis? Or how about turning them into memes for laughter’s sake? Enter Mariah Anderson from Summerville, SC. She was born with a condition called Chromosome 2p Duplication Syndrome and not only does she have a shortened life expectancy but her physical appearance, learning skills and motor skills are directly affected due to the disease. She has multiple seizures daily yet she smiles as if she hasn’t a care in the world. This is not what you will learn through the memes with her pictures. Instead you see ruthless captions such as “you have a baby and they bring you this. What do you do?” Others compared her to a Leprechaun. Even comedian D.L. Hughley shared one of the memes to his network. There is also a GoFundMe campaign for her medical care where under 300 people donated; more people shared the disrespectful memes.
When children become the targets of our jokes, memes and even our disgust, that is when we need to take a step back and reevaluate our social media behavior. These children still have stories. They are real humans with real life feelings and health issues. They are not our toys to dress up like adults to feed the fantasies of online perverts. They should not have their photos stolen, shared without permission and/or meme’d for eternal laughter. And yes, there are some amazingly beautiful children out here and one glance at their faces and your uterus starts doing water aerobics; but is it not ok to ask yourself who is this child before you click share?
I’ll end with this: Nine year old Jamyla Bolden was sitting on her mother’s bed in Ferguson, MO doing homework when a stray bullet ended her life and wounded her mother. I barely saw Jamyla’s picture on FB. I only saw links to the story being shared by a few news sites and a handful of FB friends. I’m not saying no one cared or paid cyber attention to a young life lost. But I am most definitely noting the irony of it all because truthfully, it bothered me. Maybe if she were a meme or a photo grid, her life would be worth the trend.
-Or worth the break in laughter.
-Or worth the share to pay homage to her beautiful.
Unfortunately, she seems cropped out of the share.
And we have become a nation of Sharecroppers who stopped watching what we are sowing.
**Note: A shooter has been arrested, charged and allegedly confessed to shooting inside the house where Jamyla was.
https://www.gofundme.com/4xdfos For Mariah
https://www.gofundme.com/brittlebitty For Breanna