A reader sent me a link to a Reddit thread which reveals that the image used in a popular meme online, Sheltering Suburban Mom, is the author photo of Carly Phillips, bestselling romance author.
Cue long discussion of how romance is porn.
This is a whole new kettle of WTF for an individual like Ms. Phillips, who probably never suspected that her image was being used to portray a meme character. Her identity has been listed at Know Your Meme for awhile, and their article traces the first known usage of Philips' author photo as 5 May 2011.
I don't know if I can successfully explain a meme, but usually it's an image representing a character with various captions attached. For example: judgmental bookseller ostrich, who is that horrible bookseller we've often met who judges our reading choices.
The problem for Phillips: some of the captions are funny, some are sort of meh, and some are painfully racist and homophobic, not to mention the overarching problem of having one's image used as a symbol for hypocritical self-importance.
Not the author brand anyone is looking for.
This is a brand identity problem that most social media experts probably haven't faced before. I don't know if serving takedown notices, if they'd even be effective, would work, since it would be impossible to catch all the captions, and since it would only encourage communities like ReddIt who would mock the takedown notices with yet more captions.
I would hazard a guess that one solution might be for Phillips to publicly state that it's her image, it's being used without her permission, and she'd never say those things – and if you'd like to see a really funny meme, have a look at that ostrich. But I confess, I am flummoxed by this problem for an author and her brand on the internet, and I imagine many a social media expert would be confused, too. And I have a lot of empathy for her, too.
So do you think is the best solution? How would you handle it?