Thursday, June 26, 2014

By participating in "hot criminal" memes, are we ruining these people's lives forever?


 Jeremy Meeks, a 30-year-old California man who is the accidental subject of the ridiculous #FelonCrushFriday meme, is just the latest victim of the internet's casual dehumanization of people whose images go viral.

Arrested for felony weapon charges by the Stockton Police Department on June 18, he ended up having his mugshot featured on the police Facebook Page. Things rapidly spun out of control, with his face being photoshopped all over the place. While there have been mentions of modelling contracts later on, in reality he will probably be forgotten about in a couple of weeks.

NY Post

Speaking of which, does the name Meagan McCullough (now Simmons) ring a bell? Two years ago, she was given the same treatment when her mugshot, for drunk driving in Florida, also went viral. A legal line was crossed, however, when her image was used (without permission) for advertising. She ended up suing, an online background check service, for using her face on a banner ad.

Why do we feel the need to participate in these free-for-alls at someone's expense? Is it any better if you're paying them a compliment, rather than denigrating them?

Well, here's the thing. While internet users have the short-term memory of drunken goldfish, the internet itself never forgets. Popular images get indexed and brought up in search after search. Both Mr. Meeks and Ms. Simmons will appear whenever someone is doing searches about "convicts," "mugshots," or "criminals" — especially if keywords about looks are added. No matter what they may try to do to clear up their lives, these mistakes have the kind of permanence that you're unlikely to experience outside of a small town.

Just today, this showed up on my Facebook feed, from an unscrupulous advertiser:

It won't be the last time.

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