Washington said her image has been used on multiple beauty and style online shopping sites, and she thinks they may all be affiliates of DressLilly.com.
+Commentary: The tweet above rolled across the timeline this morning and while it is uproariously funny, it seemed to be missing the most important part. The name of the company that perpetrated the fraud. So while commending the viral nature of the tweet in making us all laugh, it struck a sour note when considering that aside from being just funny, this was highly offensive and illegal.
The story this tweet cannot tell in 140-characters is multi-part. Did they take it down? How do we register our outrage at them for doing such a heinous thing? Luckily this tweet, and other commentary on social media prompted BuzzFeed News to reach out to the woman once it became a viral share. However, their story is woefully lacking in any real “news,” it only seems to focus primarily on framing this as something we can all laugh about. Which struck me as strange. Is having someone steal your likeness a joke? Is them refusing to take it down, but instead altering it to fit into some sketchy sense of legality enough? Only to have to hound them further to remedy the situation?
The above screenshot was what presented as the “You Might Also Like” link. There are several clearly stolen selfies here, that are natural hair, not wigs. Further the upper right hand pair are the same face, just photoshopped as well.
But do you really care Facebook?
So this lead me to do a little search on Dress Lily, and was rather surprised that back in April the retailer was featured in three pieces on BuzzFeed News, and one even got Facebook to respond. Combining that with a BBB search turned up that they had numerous complaints and had received an ‘F’ rating, their lowest. The articles on BuzzFeed too, were chock full of things that are very relevant to this newest outrage from what looks to be a shell company that has a website to catfish shoppers into buying something that is not at all represented in the photo.
The Chinese sellers have taken full advantage of that gap. At least eight separate brands with their own Facebook pages and distinct websites are tied to one public Chinese e-commerce company known as Global Egrow, which says it made more than $200 million in sales in 2014, and is overseen by one of China’s richest men, BuzzFeed News found. The brand names are DressLily, RoseWholesale, RoseGal, SammyDress, Zaful, Nasty Dress, TwinkleDeals, and TrendsGal.
Do we think if they will use fake pictures to sell dresses on Facebook, that they won’t also do the same to sell wigs? It beggars disbelief to ponder otherwise. Further to this, when I went to one of the Facebook pages set up to decry that they are scammers, finding one of the links to BuzzFeed — it should be noted they gave me a warning on following the link:
Something I’d thought Facebook had been chastised for previously. Articles critical of them suddenly have this gating effect of a pop-up warning. But that is an aside, duly noted because of the hundreds of links clicked on from Facebook only this one today was worthy of gating. Wonder how many of BuzzFeed’s articles receive a similar warning?
When it is being offered for free, YOU are the product
Again, Facebook, Instagram, none of these platforms truly wants to protect your intellectual property. Just as they aren’t interested in your safety, or your stolen video, they obviously don’t care that your selfie is being used to sell a wig. Indeed they profit from it, in what is widely considered to be a victim-less crime by those at the top. Just as BuzzFeed uses your tweets, with permission or without, to capitalize on your emotional & intellectual labor for clicks. You are collateral damage in their strategy to rise to the top of the their respective heaps, or to take on new ones.
With Facebook obviously ‘dominating’ the video arena (or so they would have us believe as they lied to their advertisers for two years) and are now set to take on Craigslist with “Marketplace” isn’t it incumbent upon us to make sure they do their due diligence?
This most recent entry of the marketplace idea (their fourth by my counting, but its easy to lose track) is an obvious grab for them to capitulate and monetize everyone by getting them to spend money on the site, and for them to make their percentage off the transaction. Especially important since the bottom fell out of their social gaming stream of revenue.
Yet here, in Global Egrow, we have an obvious example of the type of businesses that will flourish. One who will game the system, use the algorithm to their advantage, and do it while Facebook or others looking the other way. How are solo-entrepreneurs, microbrands, influencers, or others to compete in an atmosphere where their hard work is so clearly taken advantage of at every turn? They can’t.
Reporting processes, and any accountability, is met with a nice “comment” from someone in Facebook, which is quickly forgotten about, and no one bothers to hold them responsible. After all the people who are doing these unethical and illegal things are probably the only ones spending huge amounts of ad buys on their platform. Just as the bulk of the most popular videos on Facebook are ones that are stolen and used without permission.
Far from being apathetic about it, there must be some way to legally redress and stop this encroachment beyond becoming a Luddite. Or, watermarking every selfie you post across the entirety of your face, hair, and recognizable features. Simply throwing our hands up in the air, as many have done, with good right — has made this situation worse not better. This is clearly systemic, not a matter of a few isolated incidents. However, since these platforms so frequently marginalize and punish at their discretion, it is going to clearly take not just journalists, citizens, but our legislatures, and elected officials to address these matters.
With several high-profile investigations or exposé about them, they would indeed hack their way into a solution. One similar to what Google uses, called trust signals, or some other form of verification. The benefit is people are likely to trust you as a platform, if you vet your advertisers. Likely too, to spend more money. This verification process could just as well penalize small businesses who already use them, by being too cumbersome or expensive. That is the double-edged sword.
Yet for most who have had their work stolen, chasing down or reporting these infractions grows weary. It is cumbersome and time-consuming. Time usually better spent pursing work that pays. Hence we end up not being able to both work for justice and still put in all the time necessary to pay the bills. This shouldn’t absolve those that are supposed to look out for these interests and protect people, those in charge of these platforms from seeming as if this isn’t a problem.
Who has the time? Why bother?
Just as their real-name policy was supposed to bring some sort of respectability to their platform, so too, when creating a transactional schema shouldn’t there be safeguards and protections if you are going to be spending money with them? Safety and trust should be as important to Facebook as it goes forward as eliminating clickbait and hoax news stories. Neither of those cost us money. Further to deteriorate a person’s brand or their influence, degrade their social capital by allowing their likeness to appear on advertising for ponzi scheme marketer in China.
That is part of user interaction and design. Allowing just anybody to bilk your users and scam them is clearly going to erode the faith they place in you. Further eroding any trust for ANY advertiser on their platform as well, which deflates their ad revenue.
In fact Global Egrow, if they were smart and actually had a social media team, would hire Joanna the Scammer to be their spokesperson. Clearly that is one problematic and shady influencer that would be a good fit for all their brands.
So let this serve as a cautionary tale, but also let it hopefully encourage all of us to ask more from these so-called silent bystanders to such wholesale theft of intellectually property. If your profile avatar is not safe, nothing is.