The AP ran a story this week. It’s about Mark Zuckerberg’s sister. She took a photo of herself and some of her friends and posted it on Facebook, because of course she did. The photo was of the girls all looking down and gasping at their phones, with Mark Zuckerberg in the background. This isn’t news. What is news is that someone, a friend of a friend, saw the photo, downloaded it, and reposted it on Twitter to her 40,000 followers. (She works in marketing and is apparently a big enough deal to have 40,000 people follow what she says.)
This made Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Randi Zuckerberg, mad. That was her private photo, after all. So Randi reached out to the person who posted it, saying it was “way uncool” to repost a private picture and asked her to take it down. The offending party took the photo down. End of story.
See, Randi, not everyone gets to flash their last name and bully someone into taking a private photo down off the internet.
Most of us just have to ask nicely, and have nothing happen. Well, actually, most of us never find out if someone has stolen a photo of us, so we just have to live on, hoping that someone hasn’t taken our faces and put them to work.
It sucks, you see, Randi. It sucks having your image taken without you knowing. It sucks knowing that my face, of which I have only one, could be taken and used in an advertising, used to sell guns maybe, or as the “before” picture in an advertisement for acne medication.
I can even get over that, though. What I can’t get over are the innocents, the people who aren’t protected, the thirteen year old girls who have no idea how the privacy settings work, nor do their parents who reluctantly let them sign up for Facebook.
(And before you say “You shouldn’t sign up for anything you don’t understand, and it’s your own fault” let me point out again here that you, Randi, YOU didn’t know how the privacy settings worked, and had a photo of yourself stolen by someone you didn’t know, so you’ll have to excuse these non-related-to-Mark-Zuckerberg people.)
But these girls, these young girls, can end up on sites like Reddit’s famous “Jailbait” section. They can have their faces superimposed on pornographic images. It happens to boys, too. It happens to children younger than them. To babies.
This happens, Randi. I know it’s horrifying to think about, and I’m sorry for bringing it up. It’s not something any of us like to think about, especially during holiday time.
But here’s the thing: it does happen. People troll Facebook and find photos and steal them for nefarious purposes. This happens all the time.
Would this happen without Facebook’s wide-open, convoluted privacy settings? Sure. People will find a way.
But Facebook is making it really, really easy. And these kids, these young girls, mostly, but anyone who has their face taken from them and used by someone else — we regular majority — we can’t get on Twitter and tell someone “it’s not cool” and make it all go away. We aren’t all Zuckerbergs. Instead we do what we can: we ask nicely, and then we ask forcefully, and then we get angry, and then we threaten to call the cops, but what can the cops do? So we must just go on with our lives, knowing our faces are out there, no longer ours, being used in ways we can’t even bring ourselves to think about.