10 INTERNET MEMES THAT RUINED LIVES
When we share a meme on Facebook or Twitter we typically don’t think too much about the people behind it. But guess what? Those funny pictures are of human beings just like you and me, and often they’re really not too happy with becoming memes. Once the Internet has possession of your image, they can do anything they want with it — and they want to do some pretty bad stuff. In this feature, we’ll visit 10 people who saw their face get spread all over the Internet and suffered for it.
Plastic Surgery Ad
One thing with the Internet is that you don’t have control over what happens to your image once it’s out there. For Taiwanese model Heidi Yeh, a simple job for a cosmetic surgery clinic turned into a nightmare when the picture fell into very different context. The ad was a dumb joke where Yeh and a handsome man posed with three kids digitally altered to look really goofy looking, but it was picked up by a Chinese newspaper who used it for a fake story about a man who divorced his wife after becoming suspicious that their kids came out ugly. From there, it spread virally, and Yeh started losing work — because people thought she really got plastic surgery! She’s suing the company for damages.
Veerender Jubbal is a Sikh Canadian writer who advocates for better treatment of LGBTQ people and other minorities in video games. That made him an attractive target for a group of angry, hateful gamers, and in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Paris they created a meme that put his life in danger. Taking a selfie of Jubbal, the haters photoshopped in a Koran and a suicide vest, then distributed it with a caption identifying him as one of the terrorists. The tweet went viral and Jubbal’s face was printed in newspapers and aired on TV networks around the world. Many printed retractions, but it doesn’t change the fact that millions of people now associate his face with “terrorist.”
Zits are one of those things that we all suffer from to some degree. When Washington woman Ashley VanPevenage sat down for a friend who runs an Instagram makeup account for a “before and after” shot, the results were pretty great. Less great was the deluge of other accounts that swiped her pic and attached demeaning captions to it like, “The reason why you gotta take a bitch swimming on the first date.” Thousands and thousands of hateful messages followed, tearing Ashley’s self-esteem to shreds. Thankfully, she was able to rise above the hate and release a YouTube video giving her side of the story, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience for her.
New York City has eight million stories, and Christopher Hermelin wanted to write more of them. The dude set up on the High Line — an elevated park on the west side of Manhattan — with a typewriter and a sign advertising his services. When a snap of him hit the front page of Reddit with a snarky anti-hipster caption, it received millions of views and hundreds of comments like, “I have never wanted to fist fight someone so badly in my entire life.” The pic soon became an image meme that spread all over, with communities uniting in their derision for Hermelin’s way of spending his days. Although he didn’t get the same level of harassment that others on the list did, it’s still an illustration of how even the most benign memes can go wildly out of control.
Old or young, the world of memes doesn’t care. Case in point: two-year-old Mariah Anderson, who was born with rare Chromosome Two Duplication Syndrome. The little girl’s photo was taken on her second birthday and shared online, but what should have been a display of family happiness quickly transformed into something much darker. Twitter users got hold of the picture and began spreading it like crazy with captions like, “This why I say watch who you have kids with …. Baby look like the leprechaun. I swear I’ll cry everyday .” Thankfully Mariah is too young to read the awful comments herself, but her mother took to the airwaves to shame the people who would rag on an innocent little girl.
Alex From Target
The vast swarm of horny teenage girls that post obsessively to Twitter have created a meme culture of their very own, centered around fan art and cute boys. In 2014, that vortex sucked up a teenage boy from Frisco, Texas, named Alex Lee, and changed his life forever. When a photo of Lee bagging merchandise in his part-time job somehow went viral, it made “Alex from Target” an instant celebrity, for better or worse. With fame comes haters, and Alex’s were especially brutal. Anonymous hordes sent death threats, harassed his girlfriend and even leaked his parents’ Social Security numbers and bank information.
Epic Boobs Girl
As a man, it’s difficult for me to see the insult in somebody telling you that your boobs are “epic.” But I don’t live as a woman and I’m not subject to the sexualization of my body, so take it with a grain of salt. When a young woman named Alix Bromley posted some images of herself to social network Bebo, one in particular captured the world’s attention. Depicting a friend peering into Bromley’s ample decolletage, it was soon captioned with the phrase “Epic Boobs” and spread far and wide. When lad mag Loaded printed them along with an offer of $750 to find her and persuade her to pose for them, she filed suit for breach of privacy. The lawsuit failed, and a few years later she came around to Internet fame and put out some new shots for her fans.
Star Wars Kid
One of the earliest video memes the Internet ever saw, the footage of 15-year-old Ghislain Raza whooshing a golf ball remover around like a lightsaber, spread like wildfire when his classmates uploaded it in 2003. Raza had never intended it to be public, but the goofy spectacle quickly became the talk of the Web. Teenagers aren’t known for their ability to take mockery well, and Raza was swiftly driven into deep depression at the deluge of negative comments both on the Internet and in real life. The sensitive teen withdrew from school and was admitted to a children’s psychiatric ward under extreme stress. Eventually he was able to get his life back, in part due to suing the families of the four kids responsible for stealing his video and making it public.
The Internet is cruel. There’s no way to deny that. But sometimes it can outdo itself. Adam Holland is a young man with Down Syndrome who lives in Nashville. In 2004, he was photographed at Vanderbilt University proudly displaying a picture he’d drawn in art class. Pretty innocent, right? It was, until a Tampa radio station Photoshopped the image with the caption “Retarded News.” The image went viral, with tons of equally insulting modifications, until it finally made its way back to Holland’s family. Needless to say, they weren’t pleased at the abuse their son was getting and filed a suit against the radio station as well as a meme generator website that used the image.
When the original “Damn, Daniel” video swept Twitter it seemed like unlikely meme material — a bunch of short clips of a handsome high school kid accompanied by over-the-top narration. But something about it captured the zeitgeist, and the video by Josh Holz was shared millions of times. The two kids got some good stuff out of it — white Vans for life, for one — but as the meme got scary big, bad people got involved. In February, unknown parties contacted the Riverside Police Department and reported a shooting situation at Holz’s house, causing a SWAT raid that thankfully didn’t get anyone killed. Holz’s Twitter account was also hacked, deleting the video and replacing it with a bunch of racist images. He seems to have bounced back, but it’s a good illustration of how scary life in the public eye can be.
10 INTERNET MEMES THAT RUINED LIVES