Sharing Is NOT Caring :: The Exploitation of Children on Facebook
It was an ordinary day. I was casually checking my Facebook messages when I was stopped in my tracks. The message read: “I just wanted to let you know that someone is using your son’s image to gain likes on Facebook.” Included with the message was a link to that certain someone. Holding my breath, I clicked the link and there was my sweet boy, Connor. The photo was from 2011 during one of his routine EEGs that he received yearly to monitor his seizure activity. Along with his photo was a caption that read, “Nobody care to pray for Farnando – Can he even get your 1 Like, Amen, and Share.” This someone had a foreign name and 100,000 followers. Upon further investigation on the page, it became clear to me that my child was being exploited by a “like farmer.”
We’ve all seen those posts – the baby in the NICU who is covered in wires and tubes, the beautiful photo of praying hands begging you to claim your love of Jesus, the little girl in the cheerleading uniform displaying her bald head from chemo treatments. These pictures tug at your heartstrings and ask you to show your support by giving them a like, comment, and share. These pictures question your Christianity by challenging you to say Amen and of course, share. These pictures are of real people who have no clue they are being exploited on the Internet.
It’s a scam called “like farming,” and it is rampant on Facebook. These disgusting individuals farm your likes, comments, and shares. They prey upon well meaning Facebook users’ emotions to gain followers and traffic on their page. Once they receive hundreds of thousands of followers, they sell their page to shady marketing companies that launch scams and retrieve personal information from the followers. The more followers the page has, the higher the value when they sell it. You can easily spot a like farmer by a quick glance at their page – tons of followers and LOTS of photos of random, vulnerable people begging for attention and almost always a foreign name.
I spent the majority of my evening pleading with my Facebook friends to help me report the pictures and its spammers so it would be taken down. As I spread the word on everyone’s newsfeed, I was tagged in a post – yet another spammer had posted my boy’s picture with the same caption. By nightfall, I couldn’t keep up with all the like farmers that were exploiting social media goodwill in asking for prayers for my child whom they’d never met – all for their monetary gain. My son’s stolen photo had gone viral, and there was very little I could do about it.
Having Connor’s picture used in such a gross way infuriated me. It angered me knowing that professional scammers were using my son and his disability in an insidious way to make money. I sat next to my smiling Connor this morning with tears streaming down my face; I couldn’t help but think of how all of this was my fault. I allowed devious human beings to violate our privacy. I subjected my innocent child to this exploitation. I enabled this to happen because of my posting his pictures on the Internet. I was an awful mother.
Moments later, my phone lit up with hundreds of Facebook notifications. In my time of need, my friends and perfect strangers took on my fight as their own and with their help reporting the scammers, many of my son’s stolen photos were removed. These notifications reminded me that through my years of posting about Connor, I was able to help others understand all that makes my son unique and wonderful. And this overwhelming good far outweighs this momentary bad.
No matter what you do on the Internet, you are never protected. Scammers are in every corner of the WWW and can easily hack into your account, steal your private photos, and share the heck out of them all for a buck. No one is safe in their deviant profession, and it is up to us to help put an end to it.
So here is where I need your help…
I need your help in spreading the word of like farmers and their viral photos with your social media squad, your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles – your loved ones that have a heart of gold and want to show their support of life’s most fragile citizens. They have to be told the truth about these ubiquitous posts and that liking, commenting, and sharing is only making them worse. If you see someone that shared a like farmer’s post, stop scrolling and TELL THEM what their share really is about. They need to know.
I never thought that this kind of thing would happen to my family, yet here we are. I will continue to share my son’s pictures (now with watermarks) and allow others to learn more about him and his diagnoses. I choose to turn this negative situation into something positive by sharing my experience so others can learn about this rampant money-making scheme so that they’ll stop sharing everything that pleads for attention.
And lastly, a reminder: Jesus won’t deny anyone’s entrance to Heaven because they didn’t share a post, the kids with disabilities won’t hate anyone who didn’t like their photo, and the Facebook world will be a better place when there are less viral photo spams floating in everyone’s feed.