4th of July Viral Photo: truth and accountability

We need to talk about a picture that went viral this Fourth of July weekend.

Look closely.

Keep in mind, it’s a picture of a woman you don’t know. You don’t know where the picture was taken, who took it, or who posted it.

But, they say a picture speaks a thousand words. 

So, what does this picture say to you? Is this woman a Trump supporter, sadistically grinning at the idea of dead migrants and their children floating in stagnant pools of water?

If your answer is “well… yes?” I suppose I can’t blame you. Pro-Trump picketers haven’t exactly done much to deserve the benefit of the doubt. Hundreds of liberals thought they saw the same thing, the face of a Trump supporter cackling gleefully about deaths at the border, and took to the Twittersphere calling for blood.

Long story short, she is a protester. 

An anti-Trump administration protester.

But people went out of their way to propagate this photo, and otherwise deliberately try to ruin this woman’s life without doing any and I mean *any* digging at all. Even the laziest of searches would have turned up this video.

Or this one

In the context of its being posted and sent around by friends in a storm of moral outrage, I can understand if you saw the image and became angry yourself. We’re far less critical of information coming to us from within our own tribes than we are of info from outsiders – I wrote about this just last week. So I get it. Nobody has the time to mistrust everyone, and stuff sometimes slips past the goalie.

But even within the photo there are clues that this woman isn’t a Trump supporter. Most obviously she isn’t wearing a MAGA hat or any Trump paraphernalia, and neither is anyone sitting with or around her. If you look closely, you’ll also notice that she has all of her teeth.

But let’s forget the picture for a moment and talk about the sign she made that people want to string her up over.

It’s thoughtful, and well-researched. It’s a mock-up of a CAUTION immigrant crossing sign, like this one.

These signs are disappearing now, because we no longer have migrant families crossing highways. Instead, we have families trying to swim the Rio Grande and drowning.

And that’s the point.

That’s the point of this woman’s sign. It’s not your run-of-the-mill “IMPEACH TRUMP” written-in-orange-on-a-piece-of-white-cardboard sign. It’s a dark, satirical kind of protest, much more in line with this cartoon, which recently cost the man who drew it his job.

If her sign seems crass, evil, insensitive or disturbing to you — good. Getting attention and making a statement is the whole point of a protest sign – they exist for no other reason. The sign is exactly what it’s supposed to be. It’s meant to reflect and embody the crass, disturbing policies of the Trump administration, and the incidental, casual way lives and deaths are being treated at the border. Her sign is brilliant.

Placing the image of a drowned father and daughter prevented from seeking asylum in this country, reducing them to stick figures on a road sign doesn’t just state, it shows how the horrific has become our new normal. Oh, these? Just step over them. They’re as common as falling rocks.

It’s profound. No Trump supporter on Earth could have thought of it.

Yes it’s offensive. It’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to make you angry.

BUT NOT AT HER!

“She was smiling though, how can she care about those dead migrants and be smiling?”

For the love of God, people. She smiled on the Fourth of July and someone snapped a photo of it. You can’t know why she was smiling. She might have been happy that her sign was getting some interest, thinking it might bring attention to the issues she cared about (boy was she wrong about that). Maybe she was looking at the “baby trump” blimp they brought. She certainly looks happy to be protesting here:

(Nobody shared THIS picture.)

The woman is a flaming anti-Trump liberal.

You may not like her demeanor, and that’s fine if she’s not your style. But there’s no denying that she’s on your side.

So if you were wrong about her, be a grownup and make it right. If you posted this viral picture on your page with a nasty comment, TAKE IT DOWN. It’s important.

Does she deserve comments like this because her sign went over your head?

And that one is tame.

When liberals behave like this it makes us all look bad. And make no mistake, the right-wing political machine uses this stuff all the time and to great effect to convince the middle that all liberals have gone off the deep end.

Yes, she happened to be smiling while holding her sign and it didn’t look great. But now that we know the truth, do we really need to hang her up and lay eggs in her? The fact that her picture was taken out of context is unfortunate, but not her fault. It’s unfortunate that she made a sign about seven layers too complex for most Americans – again, not her fault.

But the fact that this photo went viral in less than 24 hours is our fault. It was posted and reposted thousands of times because we couldn’t think critically for two-and-a-half seconds before propagating a lie that could put someone’s livelihood, or even life, at risk.

I saw that a Christian pastor with about 4,000 followers had shared the picture on his Facebook page. That’s about 4,000 more followers than I have, so I figured I’d reach out to him privately and let him know the woman was not actually “a Deplorable” as he had called her in the post, but a protester whose image was taken out of context. His thread was filled with outraged comments, so I asked if he’d clear it up with his flock, or at least take the post down.

I thought that because he was a pastor he might be one to listen about righting a wrong. This was his response.

Wait. So he knows he misinformed and misled potentially 4,000 people? He knows that his flock mobbed the photo with savage comments, and that his post was shared over 50 times, and he doesn’t care?

No. He really didn’t.

I tried again, telling him that the woman was receiving threats. People wanted her name. Her address. Where she works. And that I wasn’t talking about people in the far-off Twitterverse, but about people who had seen the picture on his page. One of his flock shared the post to her own page commenting: “I hope she drowns in a ditch.” 

He knew how his post had been taken, and he knew the misdirected anger it was inciting. Last I heard from him, he told me to worry about my own self. At the time of my writing this, two days later, he still hasn’t taken it down. 

This is a man whose life is supposed to be dedicated to “worrying” about others. Leading them. Informing them. Taking responsibility for them. He couldn’t even take responsibility for himself.

I’ve posted a few clarifying articles and videos on several other threads where I’ve seen savage comments, and disturbingly the responses I’ve seen have been similar to the pastor’s.

The person who responded to my comment here clearly watched the video, but was not about to let evidence get in the way of her first impressions. She doubled down, invoking the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

In this case it was a thousand wrong words, but while we’re trafficking in platitudes here’s a far more important one:

Things aren’t always what they seem.

We need to vet ourselves online. We need to vet each other. And not for what is or isn’t “appropriate” or politically correct, but for what is or isn’t true. If we don’t, we’re no better than pizza gate or the partisan idiots who bought that the first slaves in American colonies were white Irish. If we want to think we’re better than those people, we need to actually be better. We need to, as Melania says, “Be Best”.

There is no shame in making a mistake. But as far as I’m concerned there is a lot of shame in not owning up to it, and persisting in asinine stubbornness after you’ve been proven wrong.

This blue-haired lady got off her butt, made a sign, and went to D.C. to protest a human rights crisis. Every outraged share of this picture should be taken down, and replaced with any one of the many in-depth articles that document the appalling conditions and ignorant cruelty people are suffering at the border. Replace it with this video. You know, important stuff that actually deserves outrage.

People calling for blood and plastering this woman’s face all over the internet did not do one thing to help the human beings they claim to care about. Because sitting at home trashing some lady online is a lot easier than doing what she did. Actually going to the protest. Making a sign. Showing up.

We should be ashamed.

For anyone out there still criticizing this woman for smiling once at a protest, just remember where she was on her Fourth of July weekend.

Where were you?

Author: Maria Jacqueline Hauser

Maria Jacqueline Hauser is a writer and Shakespeare scholar from Jackson, Mississippi.