Tag Archives: social media

Everybody on Imgur thinks I’m Taylor Swift

Today I found out one of my family members has cancer, and then I got stuck in traffic for an hour while I really needed to pee.

All things considered, a little copyright infringement and mean-spirited impersonation is just a bit of vomit icing on the cake of shit that was my day. So when I got a facebook message from a friend who had seen my photo posted on imgur as part of a fat joke I was upset for a bit, and then my capacity for distress overflowed and it just became…funny.

I’m not going to do the imgur troll the compliment of linking to their spectacularly unoriginal attempt at humour (a rehash of a joke that was tired and pathetic the first time it was made at the expense of another anonymous woman on the internet), but they stole this photo and attached it to a fake facebook post that said “tired of not being able to go to the mall because everybody thinks I’m Taylor Swift.”

Me (a fat, blonde white woman) doing a selfie with a big smile on my face.  I'm wearing neon yellow eyeshadow and a necklace of neon yellow and gold skulls.  A little of my white short-sleeved jacket and black scoop neck dress can also be seen.  There is a camellia bush in the background.

Me (a fat, blonde white woman) doing a selfie with a big smile on my face. I’m wearing neon yellow eyeshadow and a necklace of neon yellow and gold skulls. A little of my white short-sleeved jacket and black scoop neck dress can also be seen. There is a camellia bush in the background.

If you’re confused, the joke is that a hideous fat lady who thinks she looks like thin, attractive Taylor Swift is obviously deluded. Hur hur self-confident fat people exist, what’s up with that? Except…I’m not hideous. And, hilariously, several people in the comments of the image said they thought I really do look a bit like a fat Taylor Swift.

Did the person who posted this expect to deflate my self-confidence by encouraging people to mock me? Sorry dude, I look fucking awesome in that photo. That’s one of the reasons I put it on the internet.

Several of the commenters disdained the joke – the fact it was a fake post, the fact it was a tired old fat joke, the fact I was a human being who maybe deserved a little respect – but not all of them were so kind. There were a few cheeseburger jokes (seriously, the nineties called, they want their fat joke back) and so many variations on “you mean you ate Taylor Swift, hyuck” that my eyes just about rolled out of my head. The people who commented to say I looked like Richard Griffiths obviously haven’t read my post about selfies, in which I offered up several awkward photos of myself, or the facebook post I made recently in which I compared a recent passport photo to the demon Balthazar from Buffy. Photos can be hilariously unflattering, and I’m happy enough about who I am that I’m cool with that. Plus, Richard Griffiths was awesome! It doesn’t bother me to be compared to him because, unlike the ones making the comparison, I don’t think being fat is bad.  But also that photo isn’t unflattering. I look better in that photo than I do in real life! Is “look, you’re a fat person!” really supposed to be an insult to a fat activist who writes a blog all about being fat? Shockingly, I know that photo makes me look fat. Because I am fat. I’ve been aware of that fact for some time now.

In all seriousness, though, this is the kind of abuse most fat women receive when they dare to have a presence online. It happens all the time: we are taunted, our photographs are stolen, and many of us receive far worse harassment than I have experienced today, including stalking and death threats. Websites like imgur offer very little protection for people who are targeted with this kind of abuse, and trying to get stolen images taken down is an exercise in futility more often than not. When a troll used this same photo of me as a userpic on a fake Twitter account and I requested they remove the image and suspend the user, I was told that using my photo without my permission and pretending it was theirs did not constitute impersonation and they were not going to do anything. Luckily a friend of mine had already asked the user to stop using my photo and they had, although they were rude about it, so the problem was solved (no thanks to Twitter). When I asked friends for advice about the imgur incident today, several people said they had never had success getting stolen images taken down from other sites. I’ve sent imgur a notice of copyright infringement, but I don’t know if it will result in anything.

As attempts to deflate my self confidence go, this one was laughably pathetic, but others are not, and the lack of seriousness with which host sites approach this kind of thing is very disturbing. These websites are willing to enforce their own Terms of Service only when it suits them, or when big media corporations with well paid lawyers are breathing down their necks. Ordinary people trying to protect their own image are offered no recourse.

So what’s the solution? Plenty of people would say that by putting photos of myself on the internet I am relinquishing my ability – if not actually my right – to control what happens to them. It’s certainly true that once something is online it is, to some extent, out of your hands. You never know who has saved or screencapped something, and the internet has a long collective memory. And yes, the internet is full of horrible people who either care more about their cheap laugh than your dignity, or are actively trying to hurt and undermine you and people like you. But host sites could do more to respond to issues like this. In Twitter’s case it wasn’t that they didn’t have time to investigate my complaint – indeed they did investigate it – or that it wasn’t clear the photo originally belonged to me and is associated with me as a person – I sent them links to my blog where the photo was originally posted and other parts of my online presence, including my own Twitter account. They just didn’t care. And they knew I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

Maybe I should take down all the photos on my blog and never post any new ones. That won’t take this photo off the internet – it has thousands of likes on imgur and it’s on Reddit now too, so who knows how many people have saved it, reposted it elsewhere, emailed it to their friends, whatever. It’s a bit nauseating to think about, but I don’t want to let it change my behaviour either. I’m not ashamed of that photo, and I refuse to be made ashamed. I will feel easier if imgur upholds my copyright claim and takes the image down, though.

The one thing about all this that is funny, though, is that before today nobody had ever said I looked like Taylor Swift, and today multiple people have. I don’t see it myself, but I think that means the joke backfired.

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Let Me Communicate Something to You…

A video everyone needs to see. An extremely important life lesson for our youth. One of the most vital messages that everyone needs to hear. We need to spread this message before it’s too late!

It’s total click bait, and the “vital message” could be anything really, from the deadly truth about plastic bottles to the three weird foods that will make you stay young forever. In this case it’s the deadly truth about the internet and an urgent request that you “take in your surroundings and make the most of today” instead of going online. It’s a video of a spoken work piece called “Look Up” by Gary Turk and it is absolutely everywhere along with very serious remarks about how important it is.

Look up what? You mean like on Google? [A screencap of the title screen from Look Up, a white background with the title in black capitals]

Look up what? You mean like on Google?
[A screencap of the title screen from Look Up, a white background with the title in black capitals]

I said on Facebook – where I saw dozens of friends sharing the video – that I wasn’t going to watch it, but I figured if I was going to write a blog post about it I probably should. Maybe it would contain something surprising that I hadn’t heard before and completely change my perspective.

Guess what? It didn’t.

I found the emotional appeals very heavy handed (and I enjoy sentiment; I regularly cry at baby shampoo commercials and episodes of Grey’s Anatomy) and the overall message pretty boring and unoriginal. The sheer hilarious irony of a moral panic about social media going viral aside, this stuff is not even a little bit new. We’ve been lamenting the way new technologies will destroy us all since time immemorial, particularly with appeals to romance, nostalgia and fear for The Children™. To highlight the ubiquitousness of such panics, a friend of mine shared this great collection of quotes on Language Log [http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2177] from older people lamenting the good old days and the decaying behavioural standards of contemporary youth throughout history. I especially love the last one, a diatribe against obnoxious youths acting up during a lecture in Ancient Rome. Roman kids sound like jerks.

For the most part, the isolation and lack of authentic interaction that Look Up describes isn’t actually happening. Do you know what most of the internet is full of? PEOPLE. COMMUNICATING. People writing blog posts and commenting on blog posts, people posting their thoughts, jokes, photos, experiences on social media of all kinds, people sharing and discussing news, hobbies, craft projects, parenting advice and everything else you can imagine. It’s hugely social. Social interaction with the aid of a computer is still social interaction, and it is perfectly authentic and perfectly capable of moving people and conveying emotion. If Gary Turk really didn’t believe it was possible to convey emotion and meaning through the medium of a computer or phone screen, he would not have made a deliberately emotive youtube video to express his message. Look at that, guy expresses opinion on internet, thousands of people all over the world receive his message and have feelings about it, then express those feelings to others! Just look at all that communication going on!

For some people online communication may be the best interpersonal interaction they have, whether because they’re geographically isolated or have anxieties or other conditions that make it difficult for them to access face-to-face interactions. Or because they’re just extremely shy. For others, it may augment their daily face-to-face socialising and expose them to people and ideas they might not have had a chance to encounter locally.

It’s probably true that there are some people who lose themselves in the internet and find it overwhelming, isolating and a drain on their lives, and that’s unfortunate. But it is not true that everybody who expresses love or caring for each other via a Facebook post or a text message is getting less out of that interaction than they would do in person, nor is it true that nobody expresses authentic emotion online. The outpourings of sympathy and support that come through avenues like Facebook when someone gets fired from their job, has a breakup or loses a parent or a child are proof of that. Nobody ever worries that a handwritten letter is incapable of conveying true feeling. What’s the difference? That letters take longer to arrive?

It’s reductive and plain silly to presume that because somebody talks about something online they never talk about it in person, or in more depth than the brevity of a tweet.  Supposedly Gary Turk has 422 friends, yet none of them really know him, which is baffling because you’d think someone who feels so passionately about communication would talk to his friends offline as well.  I’m pretty sure at least half of my modest 282 Facebook friends really know me, because I tell them about myself all the time, and I even see some of them face to face!  It’s very romantic to think that people who didn’t have the internet were more emotional and connected than people are now, but it’s just not true. If anything they might have been less connected, because it took more effort to talk or write to someone. Today if I am feeling depressed and spend the day in bed I will probably talk to a dozen people across the course of the day and some of them will respond immediately. Twenty years ago it might have been nobody, and I would have ended the day feeling worse than I started.

This is me right now, but I'm fatter and the room is much messier. [A screencap from Look Up in which a slim white woman sits on a bed staring blankly at the screen of her macbook]

This is me right now, but I’m fatter and the room is much messier.
[A screencap from Look Up in which a slim white woman sits on a bed staring blankly at the screen of her macbook]

And honestly the idea that you might miss meeting the love of your life because you’re texting and don’t bump into them on the street is idiotic. Most people do not meet the love(s) of their life in some romcom meet cute, they get to know each other through a shared interest or job or mutual friend. As a matter of fact, I know far more people who met their beloved partners on the internet than met them by knocking them down in the street.

Don’t you dare tell me socialising online doesn’t count, or dismiss the additional access it gives people to all kinds of information – including non-mainstream ideas – that they would never have encountered otherwise. The internet gave me the Fat Acceptance movement (which saved my life), taught me to be a better anti-racist ally, made world news and politics into topics I felt competent discussing and forming opinions on, and made me a better writer and communicator, two skills for which other people often praise me. The internet has given me many new friends – whose friendship is extremely real and important, even if I have never seen them in person – and made some of my face-to-face friendships deeper by facilitating more frequent and in depth conversations.

The internet is not evil any more than it is without flaws. It’s a tool, and an extremely effective one for a lot of things.

I’ve been commuting on public transport since before smartphones and Facebook existed, and people didn’t talk to each other then, either. If anything, commuters were less social when their travel entertainments were music, books and newspapers, because smartphone users are probably communicating with someone somewhere, just not the complete stranger sitting next to them. I don’t want to talk to strangers on the train. I want to talk to people I know, or meet new people in contexts like special interest groups (both off- and online) where there’s a chance we’ll have something in common.

Children still play outside. They do. My street only has a couple of young families, and their kids are always outside making a racket and dashing out of the way of cars. When I was a kid I didn’t play outside very much myself (although I did sometimes). You know what stopped me going outside when I was a kid, in the nineties, when our house didn’t have an internet connection? Reading books. I spent hours reading. I read at the dinner table. I read while walking around. I read under the desk in boring classes. Can you imagine if the Look Up video were about the evils of reading? Better yet, can you imagine if someone wrote a novel about how reading too much is ruining children’s lives and tried to get it on the bestseller list?

Sounds about as sensible as trying to get a video that says social media stops people from communicating to go viral.

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