Alabama toddler targeted in cruel internet meme

Alabama toddler targeted in cruel internet meme
The Smith family says this meme using Grayson's photo is 'demeaning.' (Source: Facebook)
The Smith family says this meme using Grayson's photo is 'demeaning.' (Source: Facebook)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Grayson Smith is no stranger to overcoming odds. Born with water on his brain and a hardened skull, Grayson was not expected to survive. At 12 days old, he was sent home on hospice care.

"We cried a lot, we prayed a lot," said Grayson's mother, Jennifer.

But then Grayson's 12 days turned into 13, and two weeks into three. Twenty-four head and brain surgeries later, Grayson is 3 and a half years old and being fitted for a wheelchair.

"He's been such a blessing to us," said his father, Kendyl.

His parents started a public Facebook page to share his journey.

The page's 13,000 followers are an emotional support system for the family, as they share photos of surgeries, birthdays, and milestones. And Jennifer says some followers turn to them for hope and inspiration, too.

But recently Jennifer discovered that one of the photos was downloaded and turned into a malicious internet meme. The photo shows Grayson in his car seat holding a pumpkin.

"It was such a special day for us, it was a field trip with his class," Jennifer recalled.

The meme uses that photo, with text added.

"It says, 'That face you make when your parents are actually cousins,'" Jennifer said of the meme.

"I don't even know how to express how demeaning it's been to have someone talk about your child in that manner," she said.

A Google search shows the meme on dozens of websites and social media.

"There is very little you can do to recover it, so once it's out there, it's out there," explained J.T. Thompson, a lawyer with Lightfoot, Franklin & White.

Facebook Pages are public. They can be restricted so people only of certain countries or ages can view the content. Also, each post can be restricted based on age, gender, or location.

But generally, photos posted to a Facebook Page are viewable by anyone who can see the Page.

While a post to a public Page, like Grayson's, is not protected, a third party is not allowed to download the photo, change it, and repost it. Facebook may delete such posts to its social platform, but there is little the social network can do to stop proliferation on other social networks.

"Once you post something and put it in the public domain, photograph, comment, whatever, it is available to everybody to use as they see fit, basically is the bottom line," Thompson said.

According to Facebook, another option for people raising awareness of a family member's story is a Group page. This will not allow the same level of public visibility associated with a Page, but gr ants more control over access. There are three types of groups that let people choose the level of privacy they want: Public, Closed and Secret. 

Initially Jennifer wanted to delete the Grayson's Facebook Page, but now she's found inspiration to keep it up.

"If I was Grayson, what would I want to do?" she asked herself.

"And he would want to keep going," she added.

Jennifer is contacting every person and website that has shared the meme, asking them one by one to take it down. She says Facebook took down a page that was posting the meme after she filed a complaint.

"We're going to be better than that, we're better than that," Jennifer said. "Grayson's better than that and we can overcome it."

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