How’s this for a terrifying thought? Receiving an email from a friend that reads, “You’re Internet famous!” when you weren't intending to be.
More on Yahoo Shine: Self-Portraits Reveal the Truth About Body Image
For writer Caitlin Seida, 24, it was the wake-up call that forced her to rethink her social media habits. In an essay called “My Embarrassing Picture Went Viral” posted on Salon on Wednesday, Seida recounted how she confronted the online bullies who mocked her when her Facebook photo inadvertently spread online.
More on Yahoo: Bullied Girl, Whose Brother Wrote Viral Letter to Santa, Surprised by Favorite Band
Seida learned the photo went viral in January, racking up thousands of comments and shares, but is just speaking out publicly about it now. The picture the friend alerted her to was taken back in 2011, the year Seida wore a Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Halloween costume. "I couldn't recall whether I had set my image to private, but now it was circulating the Internet, and someone had written the words 'Fridge Raider' across it," Seida told Yahoo Shine.
Initially, Seida thought the photo was funny. “I’m a bigger woman, and it was an unfortunate candid shot,” she says. “I’ve also dealt with bullying my whole life because at age 14, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition that causes weight gain.” However, after perusing the comments accompanying the photo, her laughter quickly faded.
“People wrote things like, ‘Wow, she is fat’ and ‘Why are people like her allowed to exist?’” says Seida. “In many ways, I understood the humor— we’ve all laughed at a funny photo online but rarely realize that the subject is a real person. At the same time, I was totally crushed.”
After scrolling though hundreds of comments mocking her body, she called her friend Terri Jean, a photographer with a legal background, and the two hatched a plan. Track down the worst offenders and confront them, a task that was fairly easy, considering that many had commented on Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, and FailBlog by using their Facebook log-in information, making them easily identifiable. “I asked them why they were doing this and to please stop sharing and commenting on the photo,” she says.
Seida was surprised by what happened next. “Not only did people respond to my email, no one apologized,” she says. “They were only amazed that their comments were traceable. In a way, it confirmed that people weren’t being malicious as much as they were thoughtless.”
Seida is just one example of how people are beginning to confront cyberbullies. In September 2012, Balpreet Kaur, a woman of Sikh faith with sparse facial hair, had her photo taken at the Ohio State University Library without her knowledge. When Kaur discovered that the image was posted on the social media site Reddit, she weighed in with her own comment: "Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I'm not embarrassed or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positive] that this picture is getting, because it's who I am." Her response prompted many to rethink their words and the person who initially posted the photo, apologized to Kaur. That same month, Reddit user dtelad11 discovered that a photo of him sitting on the subway floor with a laptop was making the Internet rounds accompanied by a caption that called him a workaholic. Dtelad11 commented on the thread, explaining that he rarely gets time to work on his PhD thesis with a newborn at home, then apologized for the inconvenience, winning over his critics.
Seida has also landed the support of the Internet, helping her make peace with the photo and tweak her social media habits: She periodically checks her Facebook privacy settings, is mindful of the pages she likes, and doesn't accept friend requests from people she doesn't know. “I’ve also learned to speak up when I hear people mocking other's photos,” she says. And she's using her newfound notoriety to help others avoid her same fate. “I’m creating a website called I Feel Delicious, an open forum where people can feel good without judgment,” she says. “I chose the word ‘delicious’ because unlike the word ‘beautiful,’ it conjures up images of diversity (flavors, textures, and tastes), just like people are."