I can’t remember how exactly it happened but almost 2 years ago I started following a page on Facebook about a little girl with Down’s Syndrome, Leah, who was also born with esophageal atresia—her upper esophagus wasn’t connected to her lower esophagus/stomach which made it impossible to eat by mouth without surgery. I’ve watched her grow from a tiny little preemie to a pouty lipped toddler through Facebook posts on her page and a blog run by her two mommies. As cheesy as it sounds, it has really been a life changing experience in many ways. Every time I see that kiddo’s smiling face, it warms me to my core. She has gone through so much in her lifetime already but she keeps on trucking and laughing and pulling cat tails. She’s huge inspiration in a tiny,sassy package, and you can’t help feeling some affection for her and her mommies just from following the posts.
Through her page, also, I learned about an organization called The Butterfly Fund which helps families of children with high medical costs. Most of the children there have something called Epidermolysis Bullosa (but Leah is also one of theirs). That particular disorder is extremely painful and causes blistering and sores on the skin with even slight pressure or touch. Those who have it are said to have skin as fragile as a butterfly’s wings. I have donated when I can to several different families buying medical supplies and toys for the kids (because I want to help with bills but also help with smiles). I’ve followed pages for other children who belong and a couple of other pages for children with Down’s who donate or try to help in some way. All in all, being a part of this community in even a small way has been a big deal for me.
So, I was phenomenally pissed recently when I saw a post by one of Leah’s mommies about a sweet little girl named Adele who had her pictures stolen and used by a page that captioned them with a rant about vaccines causing autism. The page also had several other photos of children with Down’s that said things like “mommy doesn’t love me” or “mommy said we were going fishing now I live in a home” and blaming vaccines. (see the originals posted by Adele's mom here: http://aperfectextrachromosome.blogspot.ca/)
Phenomemally pissed is actually probably an understatement. I was fucking livid.
In response, I did the only thing I could do and joined in with the community to report these photos to Facebook as abuse of community standards. We all reported the photos as hate speech which targeted people with disabilities because that’s, indeed, what it was, but Facebook was fine with the photos turning down report after report until the parents of the children finally reported theft of intellectual property as the reason for having them removed. The page itself was removed for these thefts but has already sprung up again with new photos of different issues.
The page itself is called Disciples of the New Dawn. You may or may not have heard of it. I hadn’t at the time, but have since researched it quite a bit. The general public seems torn on whether or not it’s a satirical page with most believing assuredly that no one could actually believe the garbage that gets posted there. There’s nothing definitive, though, from the people who run it to say with certainty whether it is or isn’t meant as joking social commentary.
Does it really matter whether it’s satire or not? No…but also yes.
It doesn’t matter in the context of theft. These parents have pages for their children because the support, even from strangers, aids in their journey. They face some difficult obstacles and, I imagine, just knowing that other people take joy from seeing their child’s smiling face or knowing that other people are rooting for them is a big deal. To know that someone trolled their pages, though public, and stole their child’s photo to use as the butt of some sort of joke must feel like an assault. And, it’s utterly appalling. If it’s not satire, it’s appalling on many levels simply because of what’s being said on those photos and on the page. But, to steal the photos to make a joke that no one else is really privy to? Somehow that seems even worse. It’s certainly more callous.
On the other hand, it does, in a way, matter whether the page’s intent is satire or not. For one, as mentioned, the theft in the context of satire seems even more of an assault. But, also in the context of satire, where do we draw the line? At what point does satire lose its effectiveness and its punch? Certainly if no one is aware the intent is satire, it has missed its mark entirely and pretty much become devoid of purpose, no? Of course, it also says something about our society when even something this extreme isn’t obviously satirical. This leads me to wonder--does satire of this type have a purpose and a place? In all honesty, I don’t think the person who runs this page is intending to be funny at all. Either he/she is absolutely insane enough to believe the shit that he/she posts or it’s meant to troll, to cause arguments so the page owner can sit back and laugh at it all. I wouldn’t be surprised if that person had other fake accounts from which he or she comments just to keep the arguments going. Do we really have room for this sort of thing in our society? I would hope not, but apparently Facebook doesn’t agree with me. Facebook was perfectly fine with photos of children with Down’s Syndrome being used in obviously malicious ways. In fact, I don’t think that Facebook considers anything to be hate speech since I’ve reported memes and comments with the N-word only to be told they’re not a violation of community standards.
I think it’s time to demand a change. Despite the fact that I’ve been told there are real problems Facebook employees have to deal with, I don’t feel this is a petty issue. Discrimination and hatefulness of any kind only contributes to the kind of extreme social issues we see as a society right now. Targeting an entire group of individuals even for satire’s sake is not something I can get behind especially when theft of intellectual property is involved. If you see anything of that nature, I implore you to report it and keep reporting it. In the case of Disciples of the New Dawn, the page may keep springing to life like a festering sore that won’t heal, but at least this time, when it did show its ugly face again, those stolen pictures weren’t part of the page anymore.
Small victories lead to bigger ones.
I'm also including links to Leah's Facebook page, The Butterfly Fund, and a couple others. I can promise that you won't regret following and/or donating.
Sunday Confessions day. I chose to skip the fiction this week to talk about something pretty important to me. I hope you'll check out the pages I shared above as well as the More Than Cheese and Beer page! Thanks for reading.