South African mom blogger Tertia isn’t a stranger to having her children’s photos stolen, sadly. Back in 2008 she was alerted that someone was using her photos as their own on the UK site babycentre.co.uk.
But that theft pales in comparison to the most recent theft where a young woman in Ohio spent over eleven years building a massive fabricated family (starting when the young woman was only 11, no less) named Emily Dirr.
It’s a crazy story, and one that has finally been broken wide open with the help of a woman named Taryn Wright. It’s a story of a faked boy with cancer, a faked dead mom of eleven children, faked love affairs, and more.
Tertia talks about the discovery on her blog (full disclosure: Tertia is one of my oldest blogging friends).
It has just come to my attention that once again someone has taken photos of my children and used it as their own. I feel sick. Even more concerning, they are raising funds for one of their children who supposedly has cancer and apparently the mother died yesterday.
The facebook page for the little boy with cancer already has 6500 likes. 6500 likes! That is a LOT of people who were duped. The mother supposedly died yesterday and already $1200 has been donated within a few hours (before I was alerted to the scam).
Ms. Wright spotted the fraud being discussed in the comments of a popular blogger “anti-fan” site to quote Gawker (which I won’t link to), and began researching the issue, eventually setting up the website Warrior Eli: A Hoax?
It was puzzling because, from Facebook, JS and Dirr looked so real. Each had hundreds of friends and they were tagged in dozens of their friends’ posts and pictures. Both Dirrs had many albums filled with pictures, even participating in those photo a day challenges. Friends posted on their walls constantly. These didn’t look like sock puppet profiles.
It turns out that the perpetrator of the hoax and gone to exhausting lengths to make the family – of 11 kids, including Eli, with cancer – appear real by creating dozens of fake profiles for friends of the family. It was one of the most intricate fake families created online so far. Gawker talks about it in an extensive article that outlines the full story.
But the Dirr hoax is singularly creepy in that the length of the con—11 years—meant J.S. evolved along with modern social networking. When he was born, in the time of Xangas and Tripod sites, J.S. Dirr was hardly more sketched out than a character in a novel. As the internet diversified and came to encompass every aspect of users’ lives, so did J.S.
By the time he was found out as a 22-year-old woman living in her father’s house in Ohio, J.S. had embedded himself firmly in online the online lives of hundreds of people. Like a virus discovered deep in the guts of a nuclear plant, the Dirrs reveal startling vulnerabilities in the social web—how it masks lies, and boosts our ability to believe them.
It’s inevitable that this story will, once again, bring up the issue of posting photos of your children online and the risks that entails. It also brings up another strong case for watermarking photos. Will this change how most mom bloggers live their lives and share their families online? It seems unlikely; I know I have no plans to change what I do. After all, there are millions of us sharing our family’s photos, and only a handful of stories like this so far. But what do you think? Will it change what you do?