Get Your Hands Off My Photo: The Dangers of Drag & Drop Culture

Facebook algorithms. No safeguards. Carelessness. Words being tossed around to try and understand how the underage face of a teenager who committed suicide could become the face of a dating website.

Facebook’s already washed their hands of algorithm responsibility, uploaded the photo and copy themselves using Facebook’s self-generated ads. And as for safeguards, simply anyone with a credit card can upload a photo and an ad and hit publish without any facebook scrutiny (excluding key offensive words that send off the robot alarm) before the ad hits your eyeballs. And while they have policies against certain types of ads (i.e. ones that mock victims of violence or bullying), the consequences of shutting down ads after they’ve been published rather than before have been made painfully clear in the hearts of the Parsons family.

Carelessness appears to be the biggest culprit, as owner Anh Dung used a tool to “scrape” (i.e. copy and paste) images from Google search without any context for the people in the photos or information on who owns the photos. A quick internet search for “Canadian girl” reveals both photos of Rehtaeh Parsons used in the Facebook ads in the first 100 results, and they are among the few seemingly “useable” ones, once you exclude bikini shots and toddlers. But one click on any of the photos and you don’t even have to read the full article attached to see part of the headline “Canadian girl, 17, removed from life supp..” and realize that not only is the woman Anh Dung wanted to make the face of his dating site UNDER AGE, she is also DEAD.


Just one click can be enough context to realize who is in a photo.

Not exactly the best way to put users in the mood for mating.

But lack of safeguards and carelessness is just a part of the puzzle. What this really brings to light is how the internet has changed our relationship with photos and how that has changed the way we treat other human beings.

The problem is not so much carelessness, as it is drag and drop. No longer just an action, drag and drop is an attitude that’s taken over how we view other people and their property. It’s so easy for us to drag and drop other people’s photos and use them for our personal pleasure or even for profit, we don’t even think about how using these photos affect the lives of the people in them or the people who own them.

I had a great photography teacher who once said “If you use my photos without permission, I will charge you without permission.” Which is effective, when the only impact of someone using your photo is financial. The Parsons family owns Rehteah’s photos, and while they should be paid for their images being used to promote a for profit company, can any form of financial compensation heal the scars sliced back open when chose their deceased daughter to represent their dating company?

As easily as Rehteah’s face was used to sell a service without her family’s permission, it could’ve just as easily been you or me. This drag and drop attitude towards photos found on the internet means you could become the face of an escort service without you even knowing. But that doesn’t mean your employer won’t see you in the escort service ad. Or the parent of the son in your class won’t see you in the escort service ad. And will they bring it to your attention? Or just judge you accordingly? They don’t know you’re not an escort, after all, you are the face of the company.

No one can understand the full extent of how deeply horrific a company treating somebody’s life like “it’s just a photo” can be than the Parsons family. Facebook realized the horror as soon as it came to light and escalated it to high priority immediately to remove both ads containing her image. But why does it have to be such an extreme case for us to take notice of how great a violation it is for a company, any company, to use photos of us to promote their product without explicit permission from the person’s face they’re using?

Toronto Rapper Masia One found her photo on a London, UK flyer for a hip hop night she never even knew existed.

Toronto Rapper Masia One was visiting London, UK when she found a flyer with her face on it for a hip hop night she never even knew existed.

There are lives behind the faces in the photographs we see on the internet and photographers whose livelihood depends upon you paying to use these photos as well. Drag and drop is not simple just because the action is. When you drag and drop someone else’s photo and use it for gain, you are potentially compromising someone’s life and livelihood at the same time.

Just because it’s easy to take a photo, doesn’t make it yours.

The Parsons family will never forget the hurt they felt yesterday over their photograph being used without permission. Anh Dung will certainly think twice before using a photo without permission again – he’s already disabled his dating website.

Another example of what happens when Facebook doesn't pre-approve ads

Another example of what happens when Facebook doesn’t pre-approve ads.

If Facebook truly regrets what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons family, it’s about time they do what EVERY traditional media outlet does without fail – not let a single ad be published without approving it first. Put the offensive ads before Facebook’s eyes, before they actually have a chance to offend and hurt people. The advertiser is paying for the Facebook ad to be published, one set of eyeballs approving 1 photo and 1 sentence of text should be more than included in that cost.

The human cost of not pre-approving photos or respecting them like someone’s property has already become painfully evident.






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