• Tue, Sep 3 - 11:14 am ET

Someone ‘Catfished’ My Kids And They Went Viral

catfished2

I am a blogger. I am a mom. Though this list is not intended to be exclusive, some might call me a “mommy blogger.” It’s true — I blog about parenthood, sharing stories about my children and, more importantly, about my experiences trying to navigate this messy path towards raising humans.

I take great care to not reveal identifying details about my children. I’ve used aliases for them on certain sites (or otherwise simply not used their names), and I am very guarded with pictures. These are my personal boundaries when it comes to my life as a “mommy blogger.” I do this because we live in a big city that can be scary sometimes, and I am concerned with their safety and happiness. I worry about strangers approaching them at the park, or I worry about them being teased later in life for the stories I’ve shared. Never did I think I would be faced with a situation where someone would be exploiting their likeness without my knowledge.

I woke up one Wednesday morning to emails and voicemails asking if I had seen the picture of my children that was making rounds on Facebook. Since my husband and I post pictures of our kids regularly I wasn’t sure what they were getting at, but my gut said it wasn’t a good thing. My gut was right.

My son recently broke his arm and his hot pink cast (his choice, because pink is his favorite color) got a lot of attention. The guy behind Humans of New York captured a really special moment between my son (in that cast) and my daughter, and I gave him permission to use the photo on his site.

Maybe that was my first mistake.

The picture got over 41,000 “likes” there and I should have suspected it would get shared further. What I didn’t expect was that someone would take the picture, claim it was their son and tell a heartwarming story about how this little boy chose that cast against the objection of his doctor (who said “pink is a girl color”) and in support of breast cancer awareness (of which my 4-year-old currently has no awareness).

That was my son! Not only that, but there was a lot of bashing in the comments for this mother who allowed her son to get a pink cast (you know they catch the gay that way, right?). There was also a lot of support for this mother who let her kids make their own choices. The only problem? The person these people were commenting to wasn’t THEIR mother!

I sent a message to the admin of this site. To say I was mad was an understatement. How dare you claim these are your children? How dare you expose my children to this kind of criticism? How dare you take credit for my actions? The admin was really cool, but she wasn’t about to take the photo down. Her average post gets 1,000 likes. This one had received over 230,000 when I contacted her. She said it was sent to her by someone else — that it was the other woman who asserted these were her children — and she believed the story was true. She also sent me the link to almost 40 other blogs that had used the picture and some form of the story.

I suppose she did this to make me not hate her so much, but the “look, everyone else is exploiting your child and attributing a lie to them too!” didn’t sit well with me. My anger went through the roof.

Every mother wants to protect their children to one degree or another. Those instincts kick in fiercely when you fear they are in some sort of danger, which was how it felt when I saw my kids in a context to which I didn’t consent. But in this case there was nothing I could do. I threatened (take this down or I will report you!), I sought empathy (you have children too, please) and I worried a whole lot.

She didn’t take the picture down.

Some people offered comfort by encouraging me to take this as the first of many lessons I can expect about how my children aren’t “mine” and belong to the world. No way. That old adage means I need to allow my kids the space to grow and become their own individual human beings. It doesn’t mean people can use them to suit their own purposes, whether they be as noble as raising awareness for breast cancer or as low as promoting their own site. To them I say, these children are mine.

To overcome my utter feeling of helplessness, I started to blame myself and used that as a way to take action. I will NEVER post another picture of my children again! I am shutting down my entire Facebook account. All social media, for that matter! I will never take my children outside again! If I absolutely have to, I will put a blanket over their head to protect them. OK, I didn’t quite go that far, but I was getting there.

I finally realized, just like my son’s broken arm, I had to accept that this wasn’t my fault. This kind of thing could have happened to anyone. No matter how much or even how little you share, you can’t protect your children from every possible situation. I’m learning that includes the physical world of the playground as much as it does the virtual world of the Internet.

(photo: VLADGRIN / Shutterstock)

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  • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

    I knew this story all ready because of you but it’s just so damn lame. Your kids are amazingly adorable and I suppose maybe that’s part of the problem OMG Carinn why didn’t you have ugly kids?

    • Véronique Houde

      EVE! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU THIS MORNING! lol twice you have spelled already wrong. I think you need a cup of coffee!

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      Listen bitch, had you not given me your death cold my brain would be working. This is all your fault basically

    • Véronique Houde

      FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      ILU

    • Véronique Houde

      AAAWW you know i heart u 2 boo

  • Jen

    I saw the comment on the “Humans of New York” Facebook page from the person you’re talking about. It didn’t strike me that she was saying your son was her son, just that her son (who she says is 7) also chose a pink cast when he broke his arm and there was a nice anecdote that went along with it, and other people who shared it were wrongly assuming she meant to say the boy in the picture was her son.

    • chickadee

      Thanks for this–I edited my own comment to reflect what you pointed out.

    • Carinn Jade

      I agree — the woman from HONY did not do anything wrong — it was the people who got involved down the line that muddied the waters. There were variations on dozens of other sites claiming that Tonya was the mother and that the boy in the picture chose his pink cast for Breast Cancer awareness – which is great for Tonya’s son, but he wasn’t the one in the picture.

    • http://www.twitter.com/wixostrix WixosTrix

      It’s called integrity. The original person should have given credit to the photos owner, or at the very least stated the photo was not of her child.

    • Anon

      While I see and understand what you’re saying, the problem is this
      The original picture was taken and shown on the Facebook page Humans of New York or HONY for short. The title (if you will) of the photo is listed as “He wanted to hold her hand so badly.” Generally, he goes on to tell a little story of those in the photos that he takes and shares. (Unfortunately, the photo I have added is from another site passing the photo around so I don’t have the original to share
      The woman being accused by some as taking credit for the child(ren) in the photo did not actually say it was her child in said photo. All she did is, in the comment section, pass along a tale that was about HER son. She never once claimed that boy as her own. “Back in October my 7yo broke his arm” and it goes on from there. Looking at the photo itself, most can tell this photo is not of a 7 yo boy.
      While I DO completely understand the authors frustration, irritation, and anger at her childrens photo being passed around the web (I’d be spitting fire, too!) the anger is misplaced. “What I didn’t expect was that someone would take the picture, claim it
      was their son and tell a heartwarming story about how this little boy
      chose that cast against the objection of his doctor (who said “pink is a
      girl color”) and in support of breast cancer awareness (of which my
      4-year-old currently has no awareness).” The woman did NOT claim the boy as her own.

    • Dexter a Rex

      Once her emotions got involved logic went out the window.

  • chickadee

    I would check with a lawyer to determine the legality of this. Clearly the blogger who is claiming your son as hers is publishing deceptive information, and the administrator of the site is abetting her. A cease-and-desist letter is definitely in order.

    • JLH1986

      Or if this blogger or another blogger are gaining anything over it. I don’t know if she has much recourse if they are just lying about it being their kid, but if they are asking for money or gaining something from it (donations) she might have a case.

    • chickadee

      As it appears, she isn’t even saying it’s her son…she’s just using the HoNY photo as a visual for her own story. So she’s getting a lot of attention for her son using a picture of someone else’s. As Blueathena points out above, there is a significant age difference between the blogger’s son (7) and the boy in the picture (4).

    • JLH1986

      The whole thing is so scary. I’m really debating if we ever have them if photos of them will go online.

    • chickadee

      If you put them online, copyright them or make sure you know the TOS of the social media platform. I still have a hard time figuring out Facebook’s photo policy, and frankly, I don’t want to find out that a picture of me or mine was used to advertise herpes meds.

    • Kate

      You don’t have to do anything to special to “copyright” a picture. Copyright exists from the moment the work is put in a tangible means of expression that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. You take the photo, you own the copyright (unless you give it away or sell it). The author can certainly go after HONY for copyright infringement, I just think it wouldn’t be worth the cost.

    • chickadee

      Well, yes, but when you post photos on some social media sites they have twisty, convoluted TOS that may allow them to use your photos in ads or some such nonsense. And I believe the HoNY photo is owned by the site, not the mother of the children.

    • Anon

      Legally, it would be Humans of New York that would have the copyright infringement case as it’s his photo taken by him for use on his FB page. The childrens mother would have given permission for him to take it….just as she could have denied permission or joined in the photo.

    • Blueathena623

      I guess she should have said “this isn’t my son” but when she started with “my 7 year old son” my guess is thst she thought that was enough warning, since this little boy is so not 7.

    • chickadee

      Yes, I thought that too but I do know there are a lot of people out there who can’t make that leap of logic. It’s an object lesson, I guess, regarding internet photos….

    • Dexter a Rex

      The lady made a post. A simple related post. Just like you just posted. That is her frame of reference. That’s like you telling funny story about your cat on an angry cat meme.

    • Carinn Jade

      I wouldn’t name the site where the woman actually claimed that the picture was her son and told “her” story about why he picked pink because I think it’s disgusting. Tonya’s message was simply confused with my picture on HONY, but another person lifted both a picture and a story that weren’t hers and claimed them as her own.

    • chickadee

      I would totally out that site if I were you…and also send a cease-and-desist letter for misrepresentation or for whatever you can charge that woman with. Tell us where she is and the hordes of commenters can descend on your behalf!

    • yves

      Yes I would like to know the site. I do not want to (unknowingly) support bloggers and websites with unscrupulous morals and action.

  • Cee

    This is why I never LIKE an “Like if you support….” crap. I mean, other than it being crap, no you are not curing that little girl’s cancer with one click, it is really exploitative of the person who has no idea what is happening and of a larger audience who falls for it. I think I remember seeing something a couple months back on the local news talking to a kid that was supposedly dead on Facebook, garnering all these likes after his “story” was shared, until it reached his family.
    It is just wrong to use anybody for something as stupid as Likes on social media. Ugh, the whole world is fucked up sometimes.

    • Myriam

      I also don’t like it when people post “share the photo of this predator” on Facebook, because so few are verify that they actually are sexual predators. Imagine seeing your husband’s picture on a post like that because is ex has an axe to grind, or simply because is picture happened to fit the format! If they link up to a gouvernment website, or sexual offender’s registry, that’s different…

  • Outlaw Mama

    What is wrong with people? I swear I don’t get using someone ekse’s kids.

  • http://www.whatwouldshethink.com/ Rachelle

    That’s crazy. I remembered seeing the photo circulating not long ago and thinking to myself “That’s a cute kid. Betcha he got the pink cast just cause he likes pink.”

    And boom!

    Still, makes you check and recheck your security settings, doesn’t it.

    • Sundaydrive00

      Not sure what security settings has to do with this. It wasn’t a personal picture that she posted to Facebook. She let someone else take a picture of her kid knowing it was going to be posted to the public both on a website and on Facebook.

      No one stole the picture claiming it was their kids. Someone just commented on Facebook about their experience with their kid wanting a pink cast. I’m sure
      there are people out there who might think this commenter was giving the background of the picture, but most people know that people like to talk about their own experiences.

      It was really just someone mommyjacking the picture, trying to turn the conversation to be about their kids.

    • http://www.whatwouldshethink.com/ Rachelle

      I’m not saying that she should have changed her settings, that’s irrelevant for her. I can make sure however that I’m safe with my photos and photo sharing. I also learned to watch who I let use photos of us. That’s all I meant.

  • CK

    This is one of many reasons that my husband, and I held off on posting pictures of our daughter on Facebook for so long. I only had a Photobucket for family, and close friends. It was only recently that I started a “secret” group for friends on Facebook. I’ve also asked people to not share the photos. Too many crazy people in the world, and me growing up with the internet at just the right time has led me to be extremely protective of my daughter’s online presence. The poor thing is only 18 months old, and I actually have to worry about an online presence.

    • Andi Armstead Brown

      Personally think that’s a good idea! As much as I’d like to post cute pics I’ve taken of my niece and nephew, I feel like that is up to my brother and sister in law to decide what gets shared.

  • Archer

    Years ago my mom overheard some teenagers using the phrase “that’s the bomb,” and thought it meant “wow, that’s really crappy,” not, “that’s freaking awesome.” I didn’t know she thought this until I was with a bunch of my friends at our house after school, talking about how someone had just been dumped, and my mom chimes in with, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry! That’s just the bomb, isn’t it?” I was beyond mortified. Why am I telling you this? Because you’re totally using the term “catfish” wrong. :(

    • Zettai

      I was confused, too

    • alice

      it’s not that wrong in the context she’s using it. but thumbs up for a hilarious story anyway.

    • Archer

      A ‘catfish’ is someone who creates a fake online profile specifically to lure someone into a romantic relationship. It isn’t just someone who pretends to be someone else online. The title of this implies that some creeper set up a fake profile so they could have romantic contact with the author’s children. The term they’re looking for is closer to ‘sockpuppet.’

    • CK

      I’m glad I’m not the only who noticed it.

    • Band Scene Mom

      My teenage son became some what of a local celebrity, being the lead singer of a band that had a fairly large fan base. His Facebook didn’t have all the privacy settings due to him trying to build his fan base. We were notified by fans who found ‘fake’ accounts using his photos. This sounds more like a ‘catfish’ thing, since they were using his likeness to talk to girls. We contacted Facebook and they deleted the accounts. I would be upset id I were her too. The photo was used to create an Urban Legend of sorts to gain ‘likes’.

  • http://SommelierinSneakers.blogspot.com/ SomminSneakers

    The original woman doesn’t say your kids are hers. She was just sharing her story on the picture of your kids. You let another organization take a photo and post it to a public forum, but your kids were in no way ‘catfished’. It’s not even the original woman’s fault that people associated the picture with your kids- she says her 7 year old picked the cast out, and anyone can tell your son is younger than 7.

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  • doxgukka
  • VLDBurnett

    I don’t know that this will solve all of your problems, but since guy running HONY owns the rights to the photo and could probably get it taken down from those other sites if you contact him, since it is using his property. You might email him and tell him what happened.

  • Unhappy Gilmore

    ……ooohh they world is such a SCARY place! SOMEBODY USED A PHOTO OF MY BABBIES! First World Problem.

  • Gem T

    This is something we learnt recently too – although not in such a personal way. A couple of years ago my husband posted a picture on a welding forum of a sculpture he had made. Two months ago he was alerted that the image had been stolen by a business site. My husband contacted them and requested that the image wad removed, or that he was at least credited. The site owner basically said the same as above -loads of people steal from the internet and copyright doesn’t apply. Neither, apparently, does any form of politeness.

  • Angi

    Your photo is being spread around on fb again. Fckh8.com (yes that’s the fb name ) and just thought you would want to know

  • cyb pauli

    Saw the photo last night with the breast cancer awareness story. It didn’t sound probable and I knew the story didn’t literally mean the kid in the picture because he’s not close to seven. But it’s still cute.

  • http://www.mamikaze.com/ mamikaze

    Sad but not rare. In your case, the photo is copyright of the person who took it. He should be assisting you in serving cease and desist notices to those who are using it against fair use laws. As a blogger who has been around the block, your outrage is more surprising than the stolen photo. This is a rookie mistake. Get out and do something about it. Be glad it’s only “viral,” Danielle’s family photo showed up on busses in Europe. http://www.extraordinarymommy.com/are-you-kidding-me/stolen-picture/

  • Andi Armstead Brown

    I always question the validity of the feel good stories I see on Facebook. Mostly because I know all I have to do is go to Google images, use some creative writing and watch it spread. What I want to say is that you sound like an awesome mom. I think being a wonderful mom who lets her son be who he is, and like the colors he likes is a good enough story for me. I’m sharing your story because people aren’t mindful of what they share on Facebook, and no one questions the validity. And when children are involved, I don’t think anyone should share pictures of them.

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  • Myra3347

    I don’t know if anyone else pointed this out yet, but this is not what happened. In the comment that woman made she specifically said in the first sentence “Back in October my son broke his arm…”. She never claimed those were her kids. She only said she had a similar story when her similar-aged son got a pink cast. You can see the comment here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=175549029316768&set=a.119821748222830.1073741828.119818421556496&type=1&theater (it’s the one with the red box around it)

  • Samantha

    Wow. Did you even stop to read her comment? She didn’t say they were her kids. She was talking about HER son. I understand being upset by the idea that someone is somehow “stealing” your children, but you didn’t even read.

  • Tweedlebean

    The person in the comment did not claim the children were her own. She merely told a story of her son getting a pink cast. She was reminded by the photo and wanted to share her story. At no point did she say “This is my son”.

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  • Crohnie mum

    I saw the story and did think the mum was just mummyjacking your story rather than claiming that the boy in the picture was hers. I can totally get that some people jumped to the assumption that he was. I figured if that was the story that went with the photograph then thats the heading that humans of New York would have used for the picture. I am sorry that someone adding her boast ended up with people thinking that she was his mum. You should be proud of your son for choosing pink because he liked it and the way he obviously cares for his sister I think that it was the sibling bond that Humans of New York were trying to show not freally the pink cast.

  • jakko

    yea, give more photos of your kids to the internet. servers you well.

    • jakko

      serves*

  • Fernando

    This is the stupidest story EVER!! Did harm ever come to your children? Or are you just looking for attention? You should have been proud thus picture was used to spread awareness, rather than worry about your ego as a mother.

    • heyheythere

      Awareness of what? Anybody who isn’t aware of breast cancer by now has to be….I can’t even think of something sarcastic. Everyone is “aware.”

  • jamessailors

    It’s too bad your child had to be published but I believe it didn’t cause any harm. I remember purple was my favorite color as a young kid until my friends said it was a girl’s color. Your son seems too sweet in the photo. My wife and I always have a fear of pictures of our girls being used by children predators. I hope your son is feeling better now.

  • Dexter a Rex

    “you know they catch the gay that way, right?” Not always, but they sure do catch the mangina… soon some girl tears him a new ass for being so soft or hell even more likely some boy will tear it. Mothers, please raise a man.