In 2008, when my second son was a baby, I took a seriously goofy photo of the two of us. I'd intended to try and get us both reflected in my bedroom mirror, but as soon as I got out the camera, he started lunging for the camera strap and I ended up with this ridiculous shot where half the photo is obscured by a blurry closeup of his intent little face.
I posted it on my blog as a joke -- look how many wonderful, flattering photos I have of me with my boys! -- and then I pretty much forgot about it.
Until I started seeing the incoming links. And then the comments:
"Now that is one ugly baby." "That arm tattoo tribal piece of shit is hideous. I’d maybe fuck her with the lights out if I didn’t know that thing was there." "This woman has an SLR and an external flash but didn’t bother to use a tripod? IMHO she should be beaten to death with sticks." "Must...not...pay...attention...to...bags...under...eyes..."
Ah. My silly, just-for-fun family photo had become an Internet meme.
The "meta photobomb" or "baby photobombs himself" picture, as it came to be called, has been all over the place. It's been published on Reddit, Buzzfeed, Funny or Die, Daily Picks, I Can Has Cheezburger? Laughing Squid, The Campus Essential, The Huffington Post, and, I don't know, about a million other places.
Behold, a slice of our presence on Google Images:
The worst was when it was on Reddit, because the comments just kind of went on and on. I was ugly, I was a MILF, my baby was ugly, my baby was cute, I was a dumb shit who didn't know how to use a camera, I was smart for at least bouncing the flash, blah blah blah. The main recurring theme of discussion was that the image showed my child going for my boob, because HAR HAR HAR BOOBIES.
More from The Stir: Your Facebook Friends Are Posting Ugly Pictures of You On Purpose
There's no use in getting all worked up over a stranger's comment on your photo, of course. And here's what I've learned about posting things on the Internet: once you lose control of it, it's gone forever. I'm not thrilled that my personal photo has been published without attribution on countless for-profit websites, but there's nothing I can do about it. I mean, I guess I could try and hunt down every site owner once it pops up somewhere new, but who's got the time for that? Meanwhile, it's permanently joined the throngs of other stolen images and is floating out there in the web-ether, generating revenue for who knows how many content aggregators.
It could be worse, for sure. It's a silly photo, not a humiliating one. But it's certainly given me new respect for websites like this one that I write for. The Stir insists on using images that are licensed for commercial use, paid for through photo agencies, or are images the author has been expressly granted permission to use by the photo owner. I won't lie, it makes finding photos a bit of a pain sometimes, but it's nice to know I'm not earning my paycheck by stealing from other people.
What's the takeaway from seeing one of your photos become a small-scale Internet meme? Not much, really, except to recognize that most of those easily-shared roundup posts of 50 Funny Cats Who Look Like Robert Pattinson or whatever are often capitalizing from someone's personal property. And that one frozen moment in time can lead a LOT of people to believe your son grew up to look like Bobby Hill.
(He didn't. Although he's still kind of a goofball.)
Have you ever had one of your photos get posted somewhere without your permission? What did you do about it?
Images via Linda Sharps, Google Images