Debora felt pretty that night in 2012. She was at a family party and decided to take a selfie with her cousin’s sunglasses. The 15-year-old then duly shared the photo on Facebook.
But the caption of a moment of joy would soon trigger a traumatic experience. At first, the photo attracted friends on the social network. A few days later, however, Debora noticed that people she did not know shared the picture.
It was then that she discovered that she had become a meme on the Internet. And not the most pleasant. Debora had been sarcastically nicknamed “The Oakley Diva”, a reference to the brand of sunglasses she wore on the photo. It was used as a generic example of an ugly woman.
Debora even left school. The image became viral and the girl was upset to the point of refusing to leave her home in Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil. “I felt ugly and humiliated, inferior to other girls,” said Debora, who asked that her last name not be leaked, to BBC News Brasil.
“When commenting on my photo, people wrote a lot about my appearance and it made me sad,” She cried out. Very depressed, she left school and tried to commit suicide. “I had no energy for anything, I just cried and blamed myself for taking this picture,” she continues.
Now 22 years old and the mother of a three-year-old boy, Debora learned a few weeks ago that the image had been shared again on Facebook and Instagram.
This time, she did not hide. Debora wrote in her own Facebook account that she would take legal action against any subsequent sharing. “Today, I understand that I’m not the problem, I will not let anyone do anything to me,” she says.
When she posted the picture, Debora felt pretty but an acquaintance shared the image by making fun of her. Later, she deleted the photo, but it had already become viral. She began to be recognized in the street and at school, she was intimidated by her classmates.
Debora’s mother, Eliana, says her daughter has been isolated. “She suffered a lot.” Debora tried to kill herself by taking a cocktail of medicine that she found in the house. Fortunately, it failed. “If there had been poison in the house at that time, I would have taken it in. I wanted to escape from what I was going through,” she says.
In 2014, however, the meme stopped circulating. “My self-esteem was no longer so funny to people, and I was able to start living my life again.” Debora returned to school and finished her studies in 2016. “My esteem for me has improved.”
The return from the meme
Earlier this month, Debora again encountered memes using her image. This time she was compared to white girls. She says racist comments have always been there, but the new memes were something different.
“This time, they always put pretty white girls and I’m ugly. They could use a black girl as an example of a pretty girl, but they never do it,” she complained.
Debora has contacted a number of users to request the removal of memes. She now says that she will sue those who refused.
In a statement, Facebook explained that bullying and harassment are violations of social network standards and asked people to report content that they thought was inappropriate. But Debora says she’s been doing just that since 2012, to no avail.
“The images were removed only when I contacted the users directly.”
However, Instagram explained that it has mechanisms to fight and prevent harassment, but that cases must be reported.