Imagine logging online one day to find pictures of your child being used in an elaborate hoax by someone claiming your son is their child who died from cancer. Welcome to 2013. The "Remembering Reilly" hoax that entangled Tennessee mom blogger and photographer Sarah Gilliam and stolen photos of her (very healthy) 5-year-old son, Jack, is now just part of being a parent in a digital world.
Gilliam's story is scary and infuriating. Her personal work was stolen, and her child used in a scam.
But he wasn't physically hurt. No one actually touched Jack himself. He didn't even know what was going on ... which only makes the new trend of Internet thievery that much more frustrating for parents.
The perpetrator of the Remembering Reilly scam turned out to be a teenager who told Gilliam she just thought she'd "make a difference" in the childhood cancer world.
That she would be hurting another family by stealing their photos didn't seem to register.
As the number of stolen photo issues crop up -- and as a photographer who tends to follow these kinds of issues, I seem to read about them at least monthly these days -- I've noticed this pervasive "no one will get hurt" attitude.
Nine times out of 10, the child in the photos IS completely unaffected. They don't know their image is being used. They aren't hurt in any physical way.
Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they can't be.
Today's kids are online. The chances they will run into a stolen photo of themselves is almost as high as their mom or dad doing the same.
What's more, the hurt of a child isn't the only thing to consider here. The emotions of a parent are just as valid.
A photo of me with my daughter was stolen a few years ago, and the best word to describe my emotions at the time: violated.
I felt like someone HAD physically walked into my house and hurt my daughter. Her image was being used on a site that was defaming her mother. It was not something I would have allowed, and the thought of her one day finding that made me physically ill.
I fought tooth and nail to have the photo removed, and eventually it was replaced by another picture of just me. Although the latter was also stolen, just having my child removed made me feel much better. As an adult who writes online, I could handle the insult ... but I didn't feel my child should have to.
No child should have to have their image used in ways their parents don't intend.
But this is parenting in 2013.
No matter how hard parents work to lock down their lives, no matter how many times you watermark an image, the minute you put a photo of your child on the Internet, you run the risk of some jerk with a shady sense of ethics stealing it to do God knows what.
Keeping the photos offline may be an option, and it could slow them down, but it's just as easy for someone with a camera to stop by your local park, take some shots of kids on the playground, and use those. There really IS no way to keep our kids' images safe short of locking them in the house until college.
But that doesn't mean it's a victimless crime.
Have your photos ever been stolen and used elsewhere online? How did it feel?
Image via BigTallGuy/Flickr