Photo of Teen With Down Syndrome Used in Cruel Internet Meme

cameraSharing photos of our kids online is a touchy issue for parents, and it's about to get a lot more complicated. A family in Tennessee says a photo of their teenage son, who has Down syndrome, became an Internet meme used to demean kids with special needs. Now Adam Holland's family is suing a radio station and other defendants who called their son "retarded," among other offensive terms.

I've said it once, and I'll say it again: lawsuits don't solve everything. But in Pamela and Bernard Holland's case, it sounds about right. And once you hear what was done to their son's image, you'll understand why.


The original photo of Adam showed the then 17-year-old holding up a sketch with the words "Go Titans One." Hailing from Tennessee, of course, Adam is a fan of the local NFL team, and he'd drawn a picture to illustrate his support.

Unfortunately, the giant white piece of paper he'd used to draw his sketch was an easy mark for Internet bullies. According to the lawsuit, one Internet user altered the photo to read "I have a boner," and uploaded it to Flickr with a caption that read: "just a stupid photo of the sick retarded kid that lives down my street that my dogs hate." The lawsuit also alleges a radio station used an altered version of the photo to illustrate its disturbingly named "retarded news" section.

It's infuriating that people would treat a child this way and that such blatant hate exists for folks with Down syndrome.

But it's also a troubling reminder that this sort of thing can happen to any parent, anywhere.

As a mom and a photographer both, I know I struggle with what to share and what to keep to myself. I tend to share only photos that show my daughter fully clothed. I avoid any photo that shows identifying information (such as our home address). Still, we've had problems. My daughter has been called "ugly" (I'm just her mother, but I assure you, she is not). I've been forced to engage in battles over stolen photos.

More From The Stir: 13 Things Never to Say to the Mom of a Child With Down Syndrome

Being careful obviously doesn't keep all the bad people at bay.

But does that mean we should stop posting photos entirely?

The debacle over the photo of this boy certainly gives me pause.

We are trying to raise our kids to understand that kids with special needs may be different, but different isn't bad. We want our kids to look at a photo of Adam, smile, and move on ... not resort to hate speech and vile insults.

But evidently, that message hasn't settled in the brains of the trolls out there on the Internet. If a kid with special needs is still being subjected to this, is any child's photo really safe on the Internet?

It's with a heavy heart that I have to say no. Bullies are everywhere. Living in a digital society, we're going to have to risk them honing in on just about everything we do ... even posting nice photos of our kids.

What is your limit for sharing photos of your kids on the Internet?


Image via Annafur/Flickr

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