Halloween is around the corner and everyone is looking for the perfect costume. If you’ve searched for costume ideas online, specifically for couples, chances are you’ve seen my picture.
In what now seems like ages ago, my husband and I were invited to a Halloween party at a friend’s house. While brainstorming costume ideas, I remembered some friends had jokingly pointed out that I look somewhat like “Amy” (Mayim Bialik) from the TV show The Big Bang Theory. My husband is tall, just like “Sheldon” (Jim Parsons), Amy’s love interest on the show. Dressing like this popular TV couple was an easy costume that didn’t require a lot of planning, so Sheldon and Amy it was.
Like many of us do, I turned to Pinterest in hopes of finding some costume inspiration. I didn’t find much. However, if you google “Sheldon and Amy costume” today, you will find tons of hits…the very first one of which is my picture. You see, many years ago my picture went “viral,” and there was nothing I could do about it.
The night of the party I posted a photo of us in our costumes on Facebook. It was a fun night and I even ended up winning the prize for best costume. Little did I know the next morning I would wake up to my Facebook feed flooded with screenshots and links to my picture on several pages. Apparently, somebody decided to upload my picture to 9gag, which was one of the most popular sites for sharing funny things online at the time.
By the time I saw it, it had already been shared thousands of times. It seemed like every five minutes my picture appeared on a different site. My phone kept ringing, and the texts from friends kept coming:
“You’re trending!” “You made it to 9gag’s front page!”
“The real Sheldon shared your picture!”
Everybody was really enjoying it—except me. I was freaking out. My picture was being shared by the minute, and I had no control over it.
I had posted it for my friends and family to see, not for strangers’ viewing pleasure. I couldn’t even try to take it down because it was already…well, everywhere. As much as I’d tried to be cautious and limit my privacy settings, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t able to control what happened with my own picture.
Every year the photo resurfaces and somebody lets me know they came across my picture somewhere. To me, it’s a reminder that whatever we do online, isn’t truly private. While our pictures and videos technically belong to us, we really have no control over them once we hit “Post.”
Kids these days long for their 15 minutes of fame by going viral. Upon hearing about a boy from a viral video who had been invited to go on Ellen, a teen girl sitting next to me the other day said, “Ugh! If only I could go viral!” It seems like every week there’s a new viral star from a funny video or story about an act of kindness. However, there are also people who went viral for something they didn’t want to share with the entire world. We have to be mindful of what we do online because, in the end, there’s always a person on the other side of the screen.
We share things so easily and unwittingly that we never stop to think about whether whatever we’re sharing will expose or degrade the actual person in the picture or video. What happened with my picture was a funny incident and didn’t really affect me or my husband (besides my not liking the idea of strangers looking at my photo and voicing their opinions, that is). But I did learn that people with a keyboard are quick to judge, and while comments describing my husband as “Fat Sheldon” made us laugh really hard, I’m sure not everyone would have the same reaction.
My children are still young and are not on social media yet, but it’s never too early to start talking about internet safety and responsibility. We live in a social media era where someone is always snapping a pic or sharing a video. Technology is a great tool, but we have to be mindful that it comes with the obligation to be a responsible digital citizen. We need to be respectful in real life and online. Information flies, and we have to remind our kids (and ourselves) that whatever we write will be read by someone and to never post something that we would be ashamed for the world to see. I get a good reminder of this every October with a silly picture of a geeky-looking couple who traveled the internet.